Workshop proposal: “The concept of lightness: new perspectives and applications”.

Workshop proposal

Title: “The concept of lightness: new perspectives and applications”.
Venue: 52nd Meeting of the SLE (Societas Linguistica Europaea) – Leipzig (21-24 August 2019)

Convenors: Roberta Mastrofini, Jodi L. Sandford, Marco Bagli (University of Perugia, Italy)

The term lightness was first coined by Jespersen in relation to English verbal constructions formed by “an insignificant verb, to which the marks of person and tense are attached, before the really important idea” (Jespersen, 1954: 117-118). In other words, lightness was first detected as a property of general English predicates (i.e. to make, to have, to give, to take) when found in combination with a nomen actionis (Nickel, 1968) or, following a more recent definition, an eventive deverbal noun (Kiefer & Gross, 1995; Kiefer, 1998), as in the case of to make a call, to give a talk, to take a walk, to have a row. These examples represent a verbal construction in which the predicate is devoid of its literal meaning through a process of “predicate bleaching” (Szabolsci, 1986). As a consequence, the verb turns into a mere syntactic device (sometimes serving as an aspectual element too), while the noun undertakes the main semantic content of the construction (i.e. to make a call means “to call”; to give a talk means “to talk”, and so forth).
Since then, the so-called Light Verb Constructions (LVCs) have been a highly debated topic in literature, and have been the object of research in a number of different languages. Nevertheless, many aspects seem to be unsolved. The first question concerns the methodology: using a single level of analysis (morphological vs. syntactic vs. semantic) has shed some light on the properties of the verb or of the noun, but failed in considering the phenomena of interface underlying the construction as a whole. Secondly, the criteria used to determine what is a LVC from what is not are not universally recognized by scholars, or not applicable to all instances of LVCs detected in literature.
Moreover, several studies (Gross G., 1981; Cicalese, 1999; Jezek, 2011; Mastrofini, in press) detected lightness in full lexical predicates when found in specific syntagmatic environments. This construction has been named Light Verb Extension (LVE), since it shares semantic and syntactic similarities with traditional LVCs. Like LVCs, LVEs contain a bleached predicate, and the noun carries the semantic content of the pattern. Unlike LVCs, the verb functions as an aspectual device (i.e. to nourish resentment; to launch a project; to run a risk; to break a relationship). Lastly, Simone & Masini (2014) proposes a scale of “nouniness” including designative nouns (i.e. spoon), classifiers (i.e. spoonful), quantifiers (i.e. plenty), qualifiers (i.e. type), approximators (i.e. sort), and light nouns (i.e. act of courtesy, fit of crying, burst of laughter), suggesting the idea that lightness is not only a verbal feature.

Our workshop proposal wants to bring together scholars working on lightness from any type of perspective ranging from syntax to semantics, in English, or even better in a cross-linguistic perspective. Diachronic, typological, and corpus-based approaches are welcome. The aim is to find an answer to the following unsolved questions:
What is a LVC and what is not? Should we consider “light” only the prototypical instances retrieved by Jespersen or postulate different degrees of lightness in verbal constructions? And, if so, how, and by which parameters is lightness assessed?
Would it be plausible to say that any lexical predicate may turn “light” under specific syntagmatic conditions? If so, which ones?
Is lightness only a verbal property?
Can lightness in LVEs be the result of a metaphorical shift? If so, could a semantic cognitive approach be relevant?
How can lightness be considered from a Cognitive Linguistics approach? Is it a matter of conceptual metaphor extension (Lakoff, 1990; Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, 2003)?
When did lightness emerge, in a diachronic perspective? Can we apply Prototype Theory to distinguish LVCs from LVEs?

If you are interested in this topic, you are encouraged to send us an abstract of max. 300 words by October, 31st, 2018. We will select the most relevant contributions and submit them to SLE convenors by November, 20th.
Please do not hesitate to spread the proposal to anybody who might be interested in this research.
If you have any questions, or would like to submit a proposal, you can reach us at:

Roberta Mastrofini:
Jodi L. Sandford:
Marco Bagli:

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