UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 12 (2000)

Gerunds and multiple default inheritance


In general, English gerunds such as (We were talking about) John having a sabbatical combine the internal characteristics of a clause with the external characteristics of a noun phrase. Previous analyses have tried to recognise the mixed character of gerunds by assigning them two separate nodes, one verbal and the other nominal, but all such analyses are problematic. This paper proposes an analysis similar to that of Malouf (1998) in which the verbal and nominal classifications are combined on a single node, and argues that the node can in fact inherit, by multiple default inheritance, from both the supercategories without any conflict. This is possible because ‘noun’ and ‘verb’ (as opposed to their respective sub-classes) place orthogonal restrictions on the phrase that they head: ‘noun’ restricts its external distribution, while ‘verb’ restricts its internal structure. (The analysis is expressed in terms of Word Grammar, so these facts are actually expressed in terms of dependencies: ‘noun’ and ‘verb’ appear only in restrictions on dependents and parents respectively.) The analysis is extended to explain some details of gerunds which confuse this very simple picture. On the one hand, a limited range of determiners is possible: a ‘possessive’ subject (e.g. about John’s having a sabbatical) or no in prohibitions or existentials (e.g. No playing loud music! There’s no mistaking that voice). And on the other hand, a very few constructions demand a gerund rather than a noun phrase (e.g. It’s no use..., They prevented us from...).

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