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Ambiguity in Russian Verbal Prefixation System: From Lexical Semantics to Probabilistic Pragmatic Modelling

На семинаре лингвистической лаборатории состоялся доклад Юлии Зиновой (Heinrich-Heine University, Düsseldorf)

Yulia Zinova, Ph.D.Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf

Traditionally, one of the usages of the prefix po- (often called delimitative or attenuative) is associated with some characteristic of an event being lower than the expected value: an event lasting for ashort period of time, a small quantity of the theme consumed, etc. Although the observations about the low degree on some scale, associated with the discussed usage of the prefix po-, are commonly accepted and seem to be well established, numerous corpora examples do not support it, e.g. because the same verbs are modified by adverbials denoting a high degree.
In this talk I show how a combination of underspecified semantics and probabilistic pragmatic modelling can serve to explain intuitions about the delimitative nature of the prefix po- and at the same timeaccount for the cases that seem exceptional from the traditional perspective. I provide formal semantic representations (in Frame Semantics as formalized by Kallmeyer and Osswald 2013) of various prefixed verbs and pass them to a three-layered Rational Speech Act model (RSA, Goodman and Frank 2016) using WebPPL. As a result, I obtain predictions that align with the traditional view (e.g., it is very likely that an event that is referred to by a po-prefixed verb is not a maximal event), but are more flexible, as the literal semantics remains underspecified and inferences can be cancelled or do not arise at all in certain contexts.