A meaning hypothesis to explain speaker's choice of the sign look

Nadav Ayal Sabar, City University of New York, Graduate Center


A meaning hypothesis to explain speakers' choice of the sign look


Nadav Sabar

Adviser: Professor Ricardo Otheguy

The purpose of the meaning hypotheses advanced in this dissertation is to explain why speakers and writers choose the forms that they do in the course of documented acts of speaking or writing. The choice of interest is the decision to use look (or /lÊ?k/), particularly in situations where see, seem, and appear would at first glance seem to be just as appropriate. The answer to the question of why language users make the choices they do is cast in theoretical terms that rely on the construct of the sign (a synchronically stable form-meaning correspondence) rather than on the construct of the sentence. The analytical consequences of this decision regarding theoretical framework are laid out in detail. The explanation for the use of look is given in terms of a meaning hypothesis, a single invariant semantic value that, rather than encoding messages, functions as a communicative tool that merely facilitates or contributes to the communication of many different types of messages or message partials. The hypothesized meaning for look is summarized here in shorthand form as ATTENTION, VISUAL. This hypothesis by itself explains the full range of the distribution of look without the need to posit as linguistic units 'look-noun' and 'look-verb', 'look-visual' and 'look-intellectual', or constructions such as look-for, have-a-look, look-like, etc. Tentative meaning hypotheses are also posited for the forms see, seem and appear that explain speakers' expressive choices between look and each of these other forms. Support for the meaning hypotheses comes in the form of (a) qualitative analyses of attested examples that demonstrate through redundant information in the text that the hypothesized meaning has motivated the choice of its corresponding signal, and (b) large-scale quantitative predictions, tested in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, of the regular co-occurrence of look with other forms that, by hypothesis, are chosen to produce partially overlapping message effects. The meaning hypotheses of look as well as the other forms mentioned have led to the discovery of numerous peculiarities in the distribution of look that are noted here ' and explained ' for the first time.