From physical to mental acquisition : a corpus-based study of verbs

Sammanfattning: Based on the hypothesis that the frame to which a verb is linked influences how easily that verb can be extended into the mental domain, the aim of this thesis is to carry out a lexico-semantic analysis of the six verbs acquire, buy, gather, grasp, receive and seize. These verbs were chosen because they can express physical as well as mental acquisition and because they are linked to frames of varying complexity. Frames contain not only linguistic (syntactic and semantic) information, but also language users' knowledge of how society and its values affect the use of verbs. The complexity of a frame involves, among other things, the number and nature of necessary participants, circumstances under which the action may be successfully carried out and institutionalised rules imposed or sanctioned by society. Prior to the analyses, it was assumed in this work that the verbs gather, grasp and seize are used as mental verbs to a higher extent than acquire, buy and receive. This is so, because the simplicity of the former verbs' frames facilitates meaning extension from the physical to the mental domain. Specific questions addressed in the study are: (i) To what extent are the verbs used as mental verbs? (ii) What other usages do the verbs display? (iii) What is the relative frequency of different usages for each verb? (iv) Are any of the verbs better suited to express mental acquisition than others? And, if so, in what way? The analyses of the verbs are based on material collected from the British National Corpus (BNC), a 100 million word electronic corpus containing both spoken (10%) and written (90%) British English. The material retrieved from the corpus suggests that it is possible to claim that frames exert a considerable influence on the circumstances, contextual or otherwise, under which the verbs may be appropriately put to use. It is shown that experience- based and uncomplicated verbs such as gather and grasp, which are tied to minimalist unspecified frames, are used to a much greater extent within the mental domain than acquire, buy and receive, which are linked to more complex and institutionalised frames. The analyses further reveal that most instances of seize are linked to a more complex frame than was assumed. As a result, extensions of the verb into the mental domain are very rare. On the whole, grasp is the one verb that more than any of the others lends itself to mental usages: almost every second instance of grasp found in the BNC expresses mental grasping. The results suggest that although English is full of expressions pointing towards a conceptualisation of ideas and other mental entities as concrete objects - the IDEAS ARE OBJECTS metaphor - it might be the case that ideas are conceptualised as entities that are close enough to be grasped or gathered rather than bought or acquired. As demonstrated here, then, a vocabulary for mental activities and cognition is more commonly borrowed from verbs that involve direct bodily movement.