I've read Alex Alsina's papers on complex predicates and I understand why they are a problem for the syntax-semantics interface. If we wanted to build a syntax tree for a complex predicate in Romance, say, el vaig fer Vinf, how would we express the monoclausality of the sentence?

And a secondary question: Can complex predicates be represented as chains (in the sense of O'Grady)?

(I'm interested only in complex predicates in the sense of Alsina, not just any syntactically complex predication.)

  • Alsina's complex predicates are semantic entities, they can't be represented at the level of (surface) syntax. As for the "secondary" question, the answer is no. Some complex predicates are discontinuous, i.e., they don't form a chain.
    – Atamiri
    Mar 21 '15 at 9:35
  • @Atamiri I strongly disagree. You misunderstand the notion of "chain", and probably also the notion of "catena", which is based on the former. These terms are applicable to the dominance dimension only. Please take a look at the linked papers in my answer (unfortunately none of them are open-access). Mar 21 '15 at 9:49
  • @ThomasGross The question clearly states "in the sense of Alsina".
    – Atamiri
    Mar 21 '15 at 9:50
  • @Atamiri Please take the time to look at the papers I've linked to before you respond. Mar 21 '15 at 9:53
  • @ThomasGross I don't misunderstand the notion (it's pretty trivial by the way). The fact is that there are languages with complex predicates that are discontinuous in the dominance dimension. That's all I'm saying (for now).
    – Atamiri
    Mar 21 '15 at 9:57

Clausal arity can't be expressed structurally at the surface level. I'll modify the Catalan example (I'll use llegir "to read") and add two more phrases:

(1) faig llegir - complex predicate (CP), monoclausal

(2) vaig llegir - not CP, monoclausal

(3) vull llegir - not CP, biclausal

The corresponding syntax trees are identical (up to node/edge labels).

Complex predicates present a problem to unification grammars. Alsina proposed a solution (in his paper on causatives in Romance and Bantu 1997, page 236) but it's only a technical workaround that "breaks" the monotonicity of unification. We could add semantic forms (SF) to tree nodes in any dependency grammar (faig in (1) would have cause(subj,*) and the main verb would have, in this case, llegir(x,y)) but they can't be unified so it's a useless formalization.

As to the second question, I think that most complex predicates are "chains" as defined by O'Grady but there are counterexamples (CPs with "vertical" gaps/discontinuities). But CPs aren't idioms so it shouldn't be particularly surprising. (There are quite a few papers by Butt on Urdu, which is heavy on CPs, with LFG analyses - BTW LFG has "chains" since its inception in 1982, they're just called differently.)


  1. Note that "chain" isn't a precise term because it suggests something one-dimensional whereas the definition allows general connected subgraphs (and there are examples of "chains" that are nontrivial (sub)trees, i.e., not simple paths).

  2. Note that chains DON'T work at the level of surface syntax. O'Grady defines them explicitly at the lexical level and gives examples why they can't by applied at the syntactic level (as they'd be discontinuous). At the lexical level (Alsina's argument structure) they make perfect sense.


Your first question is difficult to answer because you don't give glossed examples, and because it isn't clear whether you want to know about idiomatic complex predicates.
Assuming that you do, my answer is that capturing idiomatic predicates is difficult for constituency-based grammars. The minimal complete subtree that contains the idiomatic predicate often also contains material outside of the idiom. Since constituency-based grammars can only handle complete subtrees, rather than just subtrees, they cannot capture the minimal unit associated with the idiom proper. Example:

 (1) do X justice

The indirect object, marked by X, is outside of the idiom do...justice, but since it appears between the verb and the noun, a constituent-based grammar cannot isolate just the verb and the noun as the carrier of the idiomatic meaning.

O'Grady (1997) proposes the notion of the chain in order to deal with such cases. Within dependency grammar, the concept is now called catena. The page cited gives a number of structured examples. A detailed account of how to deal with idioms is given in "Constructions are catenae", in "Catenae", and in "Katena und Konstruktion".
Very briefly summarizing the results in the linked articles, idiomatic structure qualifies as a catena in a dependency grammar.

  • I don't think this answer is about what Alsina calls "complex predicates".
    – Atamiri
    Mar 21 '15 at 10:06
  • I've only added one tag.
    – Atamiri
    Mar 21 '15 at 10:48

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