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Le projet "Ontologie et Typologie des Etats"

par Isabelle BRIL - 10 février 2017

Le projet "Ontologie et Typologie des Etats" financé par la Fédération TUL - Typologie et Universaux linguistiques - et l’équipe LaGram de l’UMR Structures Formelles du Langage vous invite à un séminaire avec

Federico Silvagni

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

On States and Events : the case of non-verbal predication

À l’UPS Pouchet - Salle 124

Le lundi 13 février 2017

De 10h à 12h

Plan d’accès :


This talk focuses on the aspectual distinction between States and Events and its manifestations in Romance languages, with particular attention to Spanish. The main goal of this study is to establish a satisfactory limit between these two aspectual classes, by answering two main questions : (i) what is an Event (and as a consequence, a State) ? (ii) How is this distinction encoded in grammar ?

The need for this study derives from the puzzling (and long-standing) observation that [dynamism], as any other equivalent criterion (Vendler 1957 ; Kenny 1963 ; Comrie 1976 ; a.o.), is not a relevant primitive of eventivity, since there are predicates that behave as Events despite they are non-dynamic, i.e. static (Dowty 1979 ; Maienborn 2005, 2007, 2011 ; Fábregas & Marín, ms. ; a.o.). I observe that, once we break with [dynamism], we reach a State/Event distribution that is equivalent to the Individual-Level/Stage-Level distinction (Milsark 1974 ; Carlson 1977), whose understanding, in fact, represents another big unknown for the research on inner aspect (see Fernald 2000 ; Fábregas 2012).

I put forward the hypothesis that the State/Event and the Individual/Stage distinctions are one and the same thing (see also Hoekstra 1992), and that the difference between the two classes rests merely on the lack or the presence of inner aspect (also Silvagni 2015), as stated in (1).

(1) States = ILPs = property-descriptive predicates : lack of inner aspect

Events = SLPs = situation-descriptive predicates : presence of inner aspect

Moreover, basing on the concept of ‘event’ adopted in modern (post-Einsteinian/Minkowskian) physics and philosophy, where reality is taken as a 4D continuum (3 Space + 1 Time dimensions), I propose that the aspectual primitive of eventivity is a ‘Spacetime point’, which I label as [Stage] (also Silvagni 2016).

In order to find out how such a [Stage] primitive (and, thus, the State / Event distinction) is encoded in grammar, I focus on non-verbal predication, and more in particular, on the Spanish copular alternation (ser/estar). I empirically show that [Stage] is a formal feature (in the sense of Zeijlstra 2008, 2014), which is encoded in Event predicates (that is, SLPs) as an uninterpretable instance [uS], and that Eventive (or SL) structures are derived by an agreement operation between a predicate and an Asp head endowed with an [iS] feature, which is realized as estar in the case of Spanish.

The study provides a more accurate understanding of the State/Event distinction and, at the same time, the Individual/Stage contrast. Additionally, it constitutes a detailed analysis of non-verbal predication and copular alternation in Spanish, which can offer a comprehensive explanation of typical controversial phenomena, such as coercion and category-specific restrictions on the distribution of ser and estar.


Carlson, Gregory N. 1977. Reference to Kinds in English. New York & London : Garland Publishing (1980).

Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect. An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Dowty, David R. 1979. Word Meaning and Montague Grammar. The Semantics of Verbs and Times in Generative Semantics and in Montague’s PTQ. Dordrecht : Reidel.

Fábregas, Antonio. 2012. A guide to IL and SL in Spanish : Properties, problems and proposals. Borealis – An International Journal of Hispanic Linguistics 1(2). 1–71.

Fábregas, Antonio & Rafael Marín. Differenciating eventivity from dynamicity : the Aktionsart of Davidsonian state verbs. Ms.

Fernald, Theodore B. 2000. Predicates and temporal arguments. Oxford, New York : Oxford University Press.

Hoekstra, Teun. 1992. Aspect and Theta Theory. In I. M. Roca (ed.), Thematic Structure. Its Role in Grammar, 145–174. Berlin, New York : Foris.

Kenny, Anthony. 1963. Action, Emotion and Will. London : Routledge y Kegan Paul.

Maienborn, Claudia. 2005. On the limits of the Davidsonian approach : The case of copula sentences. Theoretical Linguistics 31(3). 275–316.

Maienborn, Claudia. 2007. On Davidsonian and Kimian states. In I. Comorovski & K. von Heusinger (eds.), Existence : Semantics and Syntax, 107–130. Dordrecht : Springer.

Maienborn, Claudia. 2011. Event semantics. In Klaus von Heusinger, Claudia Maienborn & Paul Portner (eds.), Semantics. An international handbook of natural language meaning, 802–829. Boston : De Gruyter Mouton.

Milsark, Gary Lee. 1974. Existential sentences in English. Phd dissertation, MIT.

Silvagni, Federico. 2015. Ser-I, Estar-S. Lingue e Linguaggio 14(2). 215–232.

Silvagni, Federico. 2016. Spacetime in Language. Paper presented at Fourth International Conference on the Nature and Ontology of Spacetime. Varna.

Vendler, Zeno. 1957. Verbs and Times. The Philosophical Review 66. 143–160.

Zeijlstra, Hedde. 2008. On the syntactic flexibility of formal features. In Theresa Biberauer (ed.), The Limits of Syntactic Variation, 143–174. Amsterdam : John Benjamins. Zeijlstra, Hedde. 2014. On the uninterpretability of interpretable features. In Peter Kosta, Steven L. Franks, Teodora Radeva-Bork & Lilia Schürcks (eds.), Minimalism and Beyond. Radicalizing the interfaces