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Journal ArticleDOI

A corpus-based, cross-linguistic approach to mental predicates and their complementation: Performativity and descriptivity vis-à-vis boundedness and picturability

01 Jan 2016-Folia Linguistica (De Gruyter)-Vol. 50, Iss: 2, pp 475-506

AbstractAbstract This corpus-based study investigates the complementation patterns of mental predicates in a cross-linguistic context. More precisely, it examines five equivalent mental verbs from English, German, and Polish and analyzes whether their complements are cognitively construed in different ways in first-person uses of those verbs as opposed to third-person uses. Two types of complementation are considered: we contrast nominal complements with clausal complements. Based on the results of prior studies into Polish myśleć ‘think’ and wierzyć ‘believe’, we hypothesize that first-person singular occurrences of mental predicates will be more readily associated with clausal complements designating non-bounded and non-picturable objects. Conversely, third-person uses of the verbs are expected to be linked to nominal complements that denote bounded and picturable objects. The hypotheses are tested with bivariate and multivariate quantitative techniques. Our results have both descriptive and theoretical implications. Descriptively, we aim to identify the differences in construing the complement of mental predicates, depending on the grammatical person of the syntactic subject. Theoretically, we provide empirical evidence that is relevant for the long-recognized distinction between performativity and descriptivity of mental verbs.

Summary (3 min read)

1 Introduction

  • Language provides speakers with ample opportunities to express the same idea in different ways.
  • I have always believed in fate and destiny.
  • Ultimately, therefore, empirical inquiries into the determinants of constructional choices are important both descriptively and theoretically.
  • Regarding the semantic attributes of the complements of mental predicates, it is hypothesized that more concrete objects of greater picturability will correspond to third-person singular uses of mental predicates, while complements designating objects that are relatively more abstract and hence less picturable will be linked more immediately to firstperson subjects.

2 Methodology

  • The methodology employed in this study is known as Profile-Based Analysis or Multifactorial Usage-Feature Analysis.
  • The fundamental assumption here is that contextualized language use can give us an insight into the structure of language, whether within a single linguistic community or across different speech communities.
  • Two specific steps are followed in any study employing this methodology.
  • This procedure of qualitative analysis of hundreds and commonly thousands of observations results in a very complex multidimensional grid of usage features.

3.1 Data

  • The data for this study were extracted from the newspaper and magazine sections of the Corpus of Contemporary American English (Davies 2008–2013) and the National Corpus of Polish (Pęzik 2012).
  • + MENTAL PREDICATE + CLAUSE), (THIRD PERSON SG.
  • In English and German, both simple-pastand perfect-tense forms were extracted.
  • The hypothesis in question, as put forward in Section 1 (see Table 1), states that clausal complements are expected to be associated more significantly with first-person singular uses of the verbs, while nominal complementation is hypothesized to be more typical of the third-person occurrences of the predicates.
  • Taking equal numbers of such observations or determining the proportions arbitrarily would skew the results.

3.2 Analysis

  • All the contextualized examples were annotated for four variables (or factors), each involving binary distinctions (or levels).
  • It was assumed that objects that are bounded, either spatially or temporally, and that can be easily pictured or imagined are relatively more concrete and graspable, whereas those that are unbounded and non-picturable can be understood to be comparatively more abstract and considerably less tangible.
  • Note that the examples given in (3) and (4) could well be clausal complements of the mental predicates under analysis in this study.
  • First, the authors have the specific activity performed by a specific person at her bed, which must have been witnessed by the speaker and so it can be easily brought back in memory and vividly so.
  • This procedure was motivated by the fact that some inconsistencies were identified in the understanding of the two categories between the two annotators.

4 Results

  • This section presents the quantitative results of the study.
  • First, in Section 4.1, the authors will test the formal hypothesis concerning the distribution of clausal and nominal complements.
  • Given the simple binary nature of the hypothesis, this will be attained through the use of the bivariate Chi-square test for independence.
  • Second, in Section 4.2, the authors will test their hypothesis regarding the semantic characteristics of the complement.
  • To that purpose, wewill employ the exploratory method of binary correspondence analysis and the confirmatory method of mixed-effects logistic regression modeling.

4.1 Formal hypothesis testing

  • The authors test the first hypothesis put forward in Section 1 concerning the relation between the grammatical person of the mental predicate and the form of the complement.
  • It was also assumed that such results will be obtained irrespective of both the type of mental predicate involved and the language that is sampled.
  • The next strongest correlates for clausal complementation are first-person occurrences of think and believe in English and myśleć ‘think’ in Polish, followed by third-person uses of denken ‘think’ in German and first-person uses of wierzyć ‘believe’ in Polish.
  • When the authors consider the visualization for nominal complementation in the second dot plot in Figure 2, they can observe an overall pattern that mirrors that found in the first dot plot.
  • As the results in this section demonstrate, their hypothesis regarding the influence of grammatical person on the choice of the complement type finds only partial support.

4.2 Semantic hypothesis testing

  • The second hypothesis, regarding the relation between the grammatical person and the conceptual properties of the complement, is tested through multivariate statistical modeling.
  • First, the exploratory method of binary correspondence analysis will be employed to identify the behavioral tendencies of the predicates in their functional context of use (i. e., language, grammatical person, and the conceptual characteristics of the complement).
  • Next, the confirmatory technique of mixed-effects logistic regression analysis will be used to see whether any of the patterns thus identified are statistically significant and accurate in both predictive and descriptive terms.

4.2.1 Exploratory results

  • The exploratory results are visualized in Figure 3.
  • Evidence that would support their hypothesis should indicate positive correlations between the first-person occurrences of the predicates and objects that are non-bounded and non-picturable.
  • A cluster for this type of objects is centered on the y-axis, being thus spread across the bottom half of the plot.
  • ‘Also he did not believe that she was sick.’ (16) Er verstand nichts von den mathematischen Gesetzen der Bewegung.
  • This type of objects is also correlated strongly with the third-person uses of understand in English and the relevant equivalent in Polish and, to a lesser degree, with the third-person occurrences of think and believe in English.

4.2.2 Confirmatory results

  • The authors turn to confirmatory statistical modeling of the choice between the first-person and third-person construal with mental predicates relative to the conceptual properties of the complement.
  • Variables were not treated as random here, they would be likely to affect the results to a greater or lesser extent.
  • The effect size of this association, which can be evaluated on the basis of the estimate value provided in the second column of Table 8 and which serves to establish the relative importance of a given feature in predicting the outcome, is rather negligible.
  • Incidentally, in the model where boundedness and picturability were treated separately and where the former variable alone turned out to be significant, the results were parallel.

5 Conclusions

  • The present paper has addressed the question of the constructional profile or construal imposed by the grammatical person on the complement of mental predicates.
  • In examining this question, the authors had two objectives, one descriptive, the other theoretical.
  • Binary distinctions in semantics, which only allow for the presence or absence of a given usage characteristic, are likely to fail to account for any subtle variation, which normally cannot be expressed in dichotomous terms.
  • This in itself is an interesting finding, even if negative, as it implies that the answer to the difference in construal between descriptive and performative uses of mental predicates is more likely to lie in their semantic and pragmatic features than in their syntactic patterning.
  • The authors would like to express their gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

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Karolina Krawczak*, Małgorzata Fabiszak and Martin Hilpert
A corpus-based, cross-linguistic approach
to mental predicates and their
complementation: Performativity
and descriptivity vis-à-vis
boundedness and picturability
DOI 10.1515/flin-2016-0018
Submitted August 4, 2015; Revision invited November 17, 2015;
Revision received March 17, 2016; Accepted May 31, 2016
Abstract: This corpus-based study investigates the complementation patterns of
mental predicates in a cross-linguistic context. More precisely, it examines five
equivalent mental verbs from English, German, and Polish and analyzes whether
their complements are cognitively construed in different ways in first-person uses of
those verbs as opposed to third-person uses. Two types of complementation are
considered: we contrast nominal complements with clausal complements. Based on
the results of prior studies into Polish myśleć think and wierzyć believe,we
hypothesize that first-person singular occurrences of mental predicates will be
more readily associated with clausal complements designating non-bounded and
non-picturable objects. Conversely, third-person uses of the verbs are expected to be
linked to nominal complements that denote bounded and picturable objects. The
hypotheses are tested with bivariate and multivariate quantitative techniques. Our
results have both descriptive and theoretical implications. Descriptively, we aim to
identify the differences in construing the complement of mental predicates, depend-
ing on the grammatical person of the syntactic subject. Theoretically, we provide
empirical evidence that is relevant for the long-recognized distinction between
performativity and descriptivity of mental verbs.
Keywords: mental predicates, complementation, constructions, corpus-based,
bivariate and multivariate statistics
*Corresponding author: Karolina Krawczak, Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University,
Poznań, al. Niepodległości 4, 61-874 Poznań, Poland, E-mail: karolina@wa.amu.edu.pl
Małgorzata Fabiszak, Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, al.
Niepodległości 4, 61-874 Poznań, Poland, E-mail: fagosia@wa.amu.edu.pl
Martin Hilpert, Institut de langue et littérature anglaises, Université de Neuchâtel, Espace
Louis-Agassiz 1, CH-2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland, E-mail: martin.hilpert@unine.ch
Folia Linguistica 2016; 50(2): 475506
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1 Introduction
Language provides speakers with ample opportunities to express the same idea
in different ways. For instance, mental predicates such as English believe or
forget can occur with a range of different complement types. The two pairs of
sentences in (1) and (2) illustrate how speakers may choose between a nominal
complement and a syntactically more complex clausal structure. In both sets,
the second variant is a constructed version of the first one, which has been taken
from COCA (Davies 20082013):
(1) a. I have always believed in fate and destiny.
b. I have always believed that fate and destiny exist.
(2) a. She even forgot his name.
b. She even forgot what his name was.
Why does English provide these two variants, and when do speakers choose one
or the other? The present study addresses this kind of variation and aims to
identify the formal and semanticpragmatic constraints that determine speakers
choices between alternate constructions. In order to model this use in a predic-
tively and descriptively accurate manner and to identify the variables that are at
stake, we apply bivariate (Pearsons Chi-square test of independence) and multi-
variate statistical methods (multiple correspondence analysis and logistic regres-
sion). Taking our cues from the framework of usage-based Construction
Grammar, we assume that general cognitive, pragmatic, and processing con-
straints (Goldberg 2006: 3) shape speakers use and knowledge of language.
Ultimately, therefore, empirical inquiries into the determinants of constructional
choices are important both descriptively and theoretically.
In the most general terms, the two pairs of sentences in (1) and (2) are
instantiations of an alternation between a nominal and a clausal complement
construction: (
SUBJECT + PREDICATE + NOMINAL COMPLEMENT) and (SUBJECT + PREDICATE + CLAUSAL
COMPLEMENT
). In these examples, the predicate position is filled by present-perfect-
and simple-past-tense forms of the verbs of cognition believe and forget.
In addition to these two mental predicates, the present study considers three
others, i. e., think, remember, and understand for English and their respective
translational equivalents in German and Polish (see Table 2 for a list of verbs).
In the former utterance of each sentence pair in (1) and (2), the complement is
formally realized as a noun phrase, whereby the mental object is reified. In the
latter sentence, on the other hand, the object is encoded in a clause, which
renders the construal more dynamic or processual. Another important difference
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between the examples presented in (1) and (2) is the grammatical person of the
subject of the mental predicate. Based on prior research into the complementa-
tion of mental predicates in Polish (Fabiszak et al. 2012; Krawczak and
Kokorniak 2012; Fabiszak et al. 2014), this difference is here hypothesized to be
a significant variable determining the alternation, arguably irrespective of the
language or the type of the mental predicate.
On the basis of the perfective and imperfective verbal realizations of
BELIEVE
in Polish, Fabiszak et al. (2012) demonstrate that complements designating a
private experience, which is less readily accessible interpersonally, are corre-
lated with the perfective aspect of the verb and expressed through clausal
complementation. In turn, an experience that is interpersonally shared has
been shown to be associated with the imperfective aspect and expressed as a
nominal complement; here, the objects thus encoded undergo reification and
acquire a more intersubjectively accessible and hence graspable character. The
correlation of an experience that is publicly available with the imperfective
aspect can be interpreted to indicate that this experience is conceptualized as
more stable and lasting (Fabiszak et al. 2012). In other words, opinions and
beliefs that are held intersubjectively, regardless of what they concern, are likely
to be indefinable in terms of temporal boundaries. It is noteworthy that the
association of clausal complementation with the perfective aspect of the verb
and of nominal complements with the imperfective aspect has also been identi-
fied as statistically significant in Fabiszak et al. (2014), where the analysis
focused on the prefixed forms of myśleć think.
The results obtained in Krawczak and Kokorniak (2012), in turn, indicate
that first-person singular occurrences of the prefixed and unprefixed forms of
myśleć th ink combinemorereadilywithcomplements that designate more
complex and abstract objects of thought of lesse r tangibility. Such instances
of use afford direct access to the mental object and can be referred to as
performative (Nuyts 2001). This is because the speaker, when formulating a
given statement regarding mental states, subscri bes to an d accepts respon-
sibility for the epistemic e valuat ion underlying it (Nuyts 2001: 385). Third-
person singular occu rrences of cogn ition verbs, on the other hand, which
instantiate descriptive attribution-based use s (Nuyts 2001), are compara-
tively more readily associable with concrete objects. Such objects can be
more easily ascribed to third-person subjects on the basis of observation,
where first-hand experience is unavailable. The study presented in Krawczak
and Kokorniak (2012) also reveals a correlation of first-person subjects with
the perfective aspect of the predicate and third-person subjects with the
imperfective.Thisassociationmaybetakentomeanthatthedescriptive
third-person uses of cognition verbs favor non-bounded forms of mental
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experience, while first-person performative uses are more d efinite and
bounded in character.
1
This prefer ence for unbounded i mperfect ive uses of
verbs like think or believe with third-person subjects may be motivated con-
ceptually by the el usive and ungraspable character of mental s tates experi -
enced by oth er subjects. A consequ ence of this inherent inaccessibility and,
therefore, obscurity of other peopl es mental states is that when attributing
such states to others, the speaker is likely to opt for means of expression that
will reflect the uncertainty that marks any such attribution. Additional sup-
port in Krawczak and Kokorniak (2012) for this relatively lower degree of
certainty enjoyed by the speaker in attribution-based uses of mental predi-
cates shows that such uses manifest a statistically significant correlation with
hypothetical adverbial modification, as exemplified by perhaps, probably,or
maybe.
The findings of the above studies lead us to formulate two sets of hypoth-
eses, one concerning the formal characteristics of constructions involving men-
tal predicates, the other dealing with their semantic dimension. The formal
hypothesis states that while first-person singular uses of cognition verbs will
be associated more significantly with clausal complements across the three
languages, their third-person singular occurrences will be linked more canoni-
cally to nominal complements. Regarding the semantic attributes of the comple-
ments of mental predicates, it is hypothesized that more concrete objects of
greater picturability will correspond to third-person singular uses of mental
predicates, while complements designating objects that are relatively more
abstract and hence less picturable will be linked more immediately to first-
person subjects. The hypotheses are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1: Hypotheses.
Hypotheses Grammatical person and complement
First person singular Third person singular
Formal dimension Clausal complements Nominal complements
Semantic dimension Abstract/ephemeral objects Concrete/tangible objects
1 The present study, while drawing on these findings, will not test the correlation between the
grammatical person and the grammatical aspect of the mental predicate. Rather, it will focus
exclusively on the lexical aspect of the complement associated with the predicates under
investigation (for further discussion, see Section 3).
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While the formal distinction between nominal and clausal complements is
straightforward and does not need to be further operationalized, the semantic
dimension clearly requires a measurable definition. How the abstractness and
tangibility of the object designated by the complement of the mental predicates
have been operationalized will be explained in Section 3. Importantly, these
hypotheses do not concern purely descriptive dimensions. Rather, testing their
accuracy will produce theory-informing results. This will be attained with the
use of bivariate and multivariate statistics. Such methods make possible not
only the identification of multidimensional and socio-conceptually realistic
profiles (Glynn 2014c: 311) of the linguistic phenomena under investigation,
but they also provide information about the predictive strength of any patterns
thus revealed.
2 Methodology
The methodology employed in this study is known as Profile-Based Analysis
or Multifactorial Usage-Feature Analysis. It has been developed in the work
of Geeraerts et al. (1994, 1999), Gries (1999, 2003), Heylen (2005), Gries and
Stefanowitsch (2006), Divjak (2006, 2010), Glynn (2007, 2010a, 2010b, 2014b),
Gries and Divjak (2009), Glynn and Fischer (2010), or Glynn and Robinson (2014).
The fundamental assumption here is that contextualized language use can give us
an insight into the structure of language, whether within a single linguistic
community or across different speech communities. This methodology is designed
to model usage or, more precisely, linguistic choices made by speakers, in the
form of frequency-based generalizations across many usage events.
Two specific steps are followed in any study employing this methodology.
The first stage is a fine-grained qualitative analysis, the second one a quantita-
tive modeling of the annotated data. More precisely, the first phase involves
detailed manual annotation of all the occurrences of the phenomenon under
investigation for a range of usage features. These features can concern linguistic
form, in which case the process of tagging the examples can be semiautomated
to various degrees. They can also concern the semanticpragmatic dimension of
language use, which, in turn, necessitates close reading of the contextualized
examples. The features for which the data are annotated will depend on the
research questions posed in a given study, possible hypotheses to be tested as
well as prior empirical and theoretical investigations in the relevant domain.
This procedure of qualitative analysis of hundreds and commonly thousands of
observations results in a very complex multidimensional grid of usage features.
Mental predicates and their complementation 479
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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What have the authors contributed in "Folia linguistica" ?

This corpus-based study investigates the complementation patterns of mental predicates in a cross-linguistic context. Descriptively, the authors aim to identify the differences in construing the complement ofmental predicates, depending on the grammatical person of the syntactic subject. Theoretically, the authors provide empirical evidence that is relevant for the long-recognized distinction between performativity and descriptivity of mental verbs. 

More precisely, the aim was to provide further empirical evidence for the findings obtained in prior research into mental predicates in Polish by testing two hypotheses, one concerning a syntactic alternation between two complement types, the other focusing on the semantic properties of the complement. The findings that the authors obtain here, however, are revealing and provide valuable feedback, both on the methodological and theoretical plane. This is because the speaker attributes a given mental state to another “ nonlocal ” ( Bresnan et al. 2007 ) person, and so it may be assumed that such reified and concrete objects will be more easily attributable to others. Indisputably, elegance and simplicity of explanations, which the authors were striving for in the present inquiry, are of great significance in empirical research.