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NG12. Parsing sentences with ditransitive verbs

Emperor with PoppaeaThis week we analyse sentence (5) junction by junction, showing that the correct predicate-argument propositions are delivered in a single pass.

(5) Nero is giving Olivia to Poppaea


The sentence immediately presents problems.  Nero__is undoubtedly is a junction but its analysis has to be compatible with various types of junction following on: is__mad, is__giving, is__given.

The first of these completes a sentence:

(6) Nero is mad

This must deliver to cognition a proposition something like NERO / HAS PROPERTY / MAD.

The first junction can’t deliver anything by itself because it doesn’t contain enough for a complete proposition.  It must therefore persist for a while in an incomplete state.  Plausibly:


From here on I use HASP to abbreviate HAS PROPERTY which is a bit unwieldy.

The triangle is shaded to distinguish it from unshaded/dotted for ‘delivered to cognition’, not to indicate stored knowledge.

In LS10 we said that a network node has no local content.  Whatever it represents is given by following the connections fanning out from it.  In contrast, the dark node in the diagram has no content whatsoever because it is not connected to anything else.  Let’s call it a null node.

The second junction in (6) is similarly constrained and creates another incomplete proposition:


Provisionally assume another principle: two propositions each with a null node combine to deliver a complete proposition as long as the null nodes are in complementary positions.  Then:


In this situation, each junction presumably brings enough activation (‘A’ as in LS8) but its null node prevents immediate delivery.

For analysing sentence (5) the important point is that Nero__is creates NERO / HAS PROPERTY / (null).  This needs completion in order to deliver something to cognition.


At giving, the proposition GIVE / AGENT / NERO ought to be deliverable.  We’ve just seen what happens at the first junction.  The puzzle is what happens at the second:


If GIVE / AGENT / (null) is formed for the second junction, then again there is a second null in play:


But this time the two nulls are not in ‘complementary positions’ and there are too many concepts to form a single proposition.

If the two nulls combined they would acquire some linkage and the propositions containing them could be deliverable:


The two arrows pointing to the shared concept look odd.  A quick fix for that is to reverse the lower arrow by changing HAS PROPERTY to INSTANTIATED:


Whether the directionality of propositions is important (for example to determine progression) we’ll see eventually.  Meantime Nero is mad still works using inst with arrows reversed.

In effect the delivered proposition is GIVE / AGENT / (something instantiated only by NERO).  I’ll shorten that to GIVE / AGENT / NERO when it appears in the analyses following.

The principle defined earlier needs elaborating: two propositions each with a null node combine to deliver a complete proposition; if the nulls are in complementary positions, each is replaced by a substantive concept from the other proposition; otherwise the nulls merge to form a chain linking a concept from one of the original propositions with the concepts in the other.

The approach also works for Nero is given… although in that case a proposition can’t be delivered immediately because NERO can be either THEME or GOAL:



Treatment of the next junction is similar to what we saw in LS8 – apart from verb tense and aspect, which I’m still ignoring.  The junction creates two incomplete propositions – incomplete in terms of activation rather than concepts:


Note that, unlike LS8, in this piece I’m using shaded triangles to indicate ‘not delivered’.


Yet another incomplete proposition is created:


This one is fully activated and displaces the part-activation of GIVE / GOAL / OLIVIA on to GIVE / THEME / OLIVIA, enabling delivery of the latter to cognition.  However the incoming proposition remains incomplete.


The last junction creates:


The ‘nulls in complementary positions’ principle applies, delivering GIVE / GOAL / POPPAEA.

Have a good one!

Heavy stuff this week.  And more next week: no Santa Claus, only Syntax Laws.

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