Volume 25 Fifty Years of CRIL
Contributions from CU Linguistics Doctoral Alumni

Précis of Take a Look at This! Form, Function, and Productivity of English Light Verb Constructions

Claire Bonial
U.S. Army DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory
Published August 22, 2021
  • light verbs,
  • constructions,
  • semantic roles,
  • productivity,
  • natural language processing


English light verb constructions (LVCs), such as make an offer and take a bath, are semi-productive constructions: while some novel combinations of a light verb and eventive or stative noun are acceptable, others are not. LVCs tend to occur in families defined by a shared light verb and semantically similar nominal complements, but it remains mysterious precisely how such families are circumscribed; this presents both theoretical and natural language processing (NLP) challenges. This research first aims to address the void in linguistic resources identifying LVCs in a consistent fashion with the development of annotation guidelines for LVCs within the PropBank project.  Using the resulting annotated corpus of LVCs, another theoretically important question of why LVCs exist alongside semantically similar lexical verbs is addressed: corpus evidence demonstrates that the ease and variety with which LVCs can be modified is the primary motivating factor for their use over a lexical verb.  Finally, large-scale acceptability studies are used to examine the constraints on LVC productivity; the results reveal the importance of statistical preemption in modeling productivity.