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On the compositional nature of states by E. Matthew Husband (review)

From: Language
Volume 89, Number 4, December 2013
pp. 966-970 | 10.1353/lan.2013.0060

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In On the compositional nature of states, Husband develops a theory of the stage- vs. individual-level distinction. What determines the stage- vs. individual-level status of a state is not a lexical property of the verb, it is argued, but a function of the combination of the verb and the quantization properties of its arguments. A stative verb in combination with a quantized object gives rise to a stage-level predicate; a stative verb in combination with a homogenous object gives rise to an individual-level predicate. This is a novel observation. As H points out, this fact is strikingly parallel to the compositionality of the (a)telicity of a predicate, where, depending on the quantization properties of the direct object, the verb phrase is telic or atelic. This parallel is extended to the scalar properties of adjectives as well, where H observes that if the head adjective is closed-scale, the predicate is interpreted as stage-level, and if the head adjective is open-scale, the predicate is interpreted as individual-level. He argues that the closed- vs. open-scale properties of adjectives themselves are just another manifestation of quantized vs. homogenous properties. Moreover, H argues that the existential interpretation of a subject, which arises in the context of a stage-level predicate, and the generic interpretation, which arises in the context of an individual-level predicate, are themselves fundamentally aspectual notions, the result of a mapping from the quantization properties of the predicate to the subject. An existentially interpreted subject is the result of a stage-level predicate predicating over a single (quantized) stage of an individual; a generically interpreted subject is the result of an individual-level predicate predicating over all (or homogeneous) stages of an individual, that is, over the individual itself. H provides a formal semantic account of the compositional nature of the stage- vs. individual-level alternation and the mapping from predicate to subjects by assimilating approaches from Krifka (1992, 1998), Kratzer (1995, 2004), and Borer (2005). These parallels between eventive and stative predicates as well as the observation that states are compositionally formed make this monograph a must-read for anyone interested in aspect.

My main goal in what follows is to provide a brief summary of the five chapters of this monograph. I focus on what, in my mind, makes this work a valuable contribution to the literature on aspect: the novel observations and connections that H makes regarding the parallels between the compositional nature of eventualities and states, and the critical role of quantization in their compositionality. In the end, I raise two questions about this parallel context of compositionality.

In Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’, H offers two main observations that are the backbone of the monograph. The first, originally from Fernald (1994), is that a stative verb can alternate between a stage- and individual-level interpretation depending on the nature of its arguments.


  1. a.    Veterans remember.       (generic only)

  2. b.    Veterans remember battles.     (generic only)

  3. c.    Veterans remember this battle.     (existential possible)

    The interpretation of the subject in 1 changes as a function of the direct object. Concretely, when there is no direct object (1a) or when there is a bare plural object (1b), the subject can only receive a generic interpretation. In contrast, in the presence of a demonstrative object (1c), an existential interpretation of the subject is available. H makes the connection with what is already known (since Verkuyl 1972) about eventive predicates and the role of the direct object in their composition, an illustration of which is given in 2.

  4. 2.   

    1. a.    John read *in an hour.

    2. b.    John read books *in an hour.

    3. c.    John read this book in an hour.

    When no direct object is present (2a) or when a bare plural object is present (2b), the predicate is atelic, as indicated by the ungrammatical in-adverbial. In contrast, in the presence of the demonstrative object (2c), the predicate is telic, as indicated by the grammatical in-adverbial.

    The second observation is that the scalar properties of the head adjective in adjectival predicates also have consequences for the stage- vs. individual-level interpretation.

  5. 3.   

    1. a.    Whiskey bottles are brown.

    2. b.    Whiskey bottles are full.


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