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On the Difference between Eating and Eating Something: Activities versus Accomplishments

Author(s): Anita Mittwoch


Source: Linguistic Inquiry, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Winter, 1982), pp. 113-122
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4178263 .
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REMARKS AND REPLIES 113

Stanners, R. F., J. J. Neiser, W. P. Hernon, and R. Hall (1979) "Memory Representationfor


MorphologicallyRelated Words," Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 18,
399-412.

(Cutler)
Laboratoryof ExperimentalPsychology
Universityof Sussex
Brighton, BNI 9QG, U.K.

(Fay)
Bell Laboratories
Naperville, Illinois 60566

On the DifferencebetweenEatingandEatingSomething:ActivitiesversusAccomplishments

Anita Mittwoch
1. Classical TG derived (1) from (2) by a deletion transformation(Katz and Postal (1964,
81ff.)).
(1) John ate.
(2) John ate something.
Bresnan (1978) treats (1) as syntactically intransitive but functionally transitive and
captures the semantic relationshipbetween (1) and (2) by a lexical mappingrule:
(3) eat: V, [ NP], NP1 EAT NP2
[ ],3y,NP1EATy
Fodor and Fodor (1980) point out that eat and eat something are not equivalent in
combination with other quantifiersor in opaque contexts (the same is true for other
verbs that behave like eat):
(4) a. Everybody ate something.
b. Everybody ate.
(5) a. Bill believes that John ate something.
b. Bill believes that John ate.
In (4a) and (5a) something can have narrowor wide scope but in (4b) and (5b) the implicit
pronouncan have only the narrowscope reading.Fodor and Fodor accordinglypropose
that the inference from (1) to (2) should be capturedneither on the syntactic nor on the
functional level, on both of which eat without an object would be intransitive,and that

I wish to thankJohn Lyons and an anonymousreaderfor commentson an earlierversion of this remark,


and my colleagues MarkStein and JosephTaglichtfor manyfruitfulsuggestionsand for painstakingcriticism.

Linguistic Inquiry, Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 1982


0024-3892/82/0101 13-10 $02.50/0
?1982 by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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114 REMARKS AND REPLIES

the lexical entry (3) should be replaced by (6):


(6) eat: V, [ NP], NP, EAT NP2
[__, NP, EAT
(6) can then be followed (in the order of applicationof rules) by a meaning postulate
which, by the way it is formulated,takes care of the scope distinctions involved:
(7) x EAT-(3y) x EAT y
In what follows I shall explore some furtherdifferencesbetween eat and eat some-
thing which show up even in the absence of additionalquantifiersor opacity-creating
verbs. I shall claim that, although (1) does indeed entail (2), on a strict interpretation
of the pronoun something (8) does not entail (9):
(8) John is eating.
(9) John is eating something.
If the existential quantifieris to be construed as accurately mirroringthe propertiesof
English something, this conclusion requiresa modificationof (7) as well.
The differences all hinge on the fact that eat and eat somethingenter different"time
schemata" in the sense of Vendler (1957). Eat is an "activity" predicate, whereas eat
something is, as I shall demonstrate, an "accomplishment".' (I shall henceforth omit
the word predicate for the sake of conciseness.) Activities and accomplishmentscontain
the same verbs, namely "process" verbs, which I have defined elsewhere (Mittwoch
(1980))as verbs that can be modified, literallyand nonelliptically,by the adverbsquickly
and slowly. The distinction between them depends on the presence or absence of an
object NP (or directional phrase, in the case of verbs of motion) and its features if
present.2A process verb without an object or with an object NP that lacks a quantifier,
i.e. that consists of a "bare" pluralor mass noun, enters into an activity; a process verb
with a quantifiedobject NP enters into an accomplishment.I shall distinguishquantified
and unquantifiedNPs by the positive and negative values, respectively, of the feature
[delimited quantity]. (The rule for activities and processes as given above applies to

Vendler'sfour-partclassificationinto "achievements","accomplishments","activities",and "states"


has been replacedin most recent work by one representablein the form of a binary-branching tree and using
for its major categories the three terms "events", "processes", and "states". Following Kenny (1963),
Mourelatos(1978) groups Vendler's "achievements" and "accomplishments"together as subcategoriesof
"events". On the other hand, in Comrie (1976, 41ff.), Lyons (1977, 483, 711), and, implicitly,in Mittwoch
(1980), "accomplishments"and "activities" are grouped together under "processes". This disagreement
reflects a differencein the criteriaunderlyingthe classification.Mourelatos'scriterionis the possibilityof (a)
quantificationby means of frequencyadverbials,(b) transformationinto quantifiednominalizations.The other
analyses are based on the criterionof extension in time. Severalof the distinctionsI drawin the text converge
with Mourelatos'scriterion.I have chosen neverthelessto retainVendler'sterms because I now believe that
only a returnto a four-partclassification(not representablein one binary-branching tree) can do justice to all
aspects of the problem.
2 The distinctionbetween activities and accomplishmentsmay be locatedin the subjectNP and may thus
involve the whole sentence ratherthanjust the predicate(cf. Mittwoch(1980)).This is irrelevantfor present
purposes, however.

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REMARKS AND REPLIES 115

typical contexts. There are special contexts in which it does not hold; some of these
will be mentionedbelow.) Since something is usually considered to be a quantifiedNP,
the "accomplishment"natureof eat somethingis hardlysurprising.3However, the exact
status of this NP is puzzling and has not, to my knowledge, been discussed in the
literature.I shall take it up in an appendixto this remark.

2. I shall now present six differencesbetween the two kinds of predicate.The first three
involve cooccurrence restrictions;the last three are purely semantic.
2.1. Atelic durationalphrases likefor 10 minutesoccur with activities but not (normally)
with accomplishments(cf. Mittwoch (1971; 1980)):
(10) John ate (peanuts/porridge)for 10 minutes.
(11) a. *John ate half a pound of peanuts/fourhelpings of porridgefor 10 minutes.
b. *John ate some peanuts/porridgefor 10 minutes.
(12) *John ate somethingfor 10 minutes.
In contrast to (10), which is well-formed, (12) is normally deviant. (12) may become
acceptable to some speakers under the pressure of special contexts. Consider the fol-
lowing conversation:
(13) A. John ate porridgefor 10 minutes.
B. I don't think it was porridgebut he certainlyate somethingfor 10 minutes.
Here, for want of a pronounthat is [ - delimitedquantity](a point to which I shall return
below), the speaker treats something as though it were such a pronoun, or else gives
it a partitive reading.
There are other contexts in which atelic durationals can occur with predicates
consisting of process verbs and quantifiedobject NPs:
(14) John ate a piece of cheese/something savory after dinnerfor years.

3The fact that something is quantifiedemerges most clearly from the followingexamples:
(i) John wrote poetry and Bill translatedit.
(ii) John wrote a poem and Bill translatedit.
(iii) John wrote somethingand Bill translatedit.
In (iii) as in (ii), but not in (i), Bill must have translatedJohn's productions.
Somethingmay occur in certainenvironmentsthat are characteristicof bare pluralsand mass nouns, for
example as subject of be rare, be found in (cf. Carlson(1977)):
(iv) Gold is rare.
(v) *Several pieces of gold are rare.
(vi) Somethingas rare as gold is highly prized.
QuantifiedNPs can however occur in such environmentsif they can be interpretedas denotingtypes rather
than tokens or if their head nouns themselves denote somethinglike "kind":
(vii) Three swallows are found in Israel.
(viii) A substance as rare as this is highly prized.
Hence, somethingcan have a type interpretationin this context. I mentionthis fact because, as we shall see,
on the type interpretationof something, eat somethingbehaves like an activity predicate.

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116 REMARKS AND REPLIES

(15) John and Bill had a bet about which of them could keep up boozing longer.
John dranka 1968Beaujolaislsomethingveryheadyfor 10minutes,afterwhich
he was sick; Bill managedto drinka much lighter wine for 12 minutes. So Bill
won.
The sentences in (14) have an iterative reading, so that the object NPs are understood
to refer to a series of entities. In (15) the italicized NPs have the type interpretation(cf.
note 2). In both cases the predicates are used to denote activities rather than accom-
plishments.
The cooccurrence restrictions of telic durationalssuch as in 10 minutes will be
discussed in the appendix.
2.2. There is a curious cooccurrence restriction on certain unspecified quantity pro-
nominals such as a lot, too much, more than. When these follow intransitivestate or
process verbs, their meaning is indeterminate(or ambiguous)between durationor fre-
quency (or a combinationof both):
(16) John slept/fasted/prayed/swama lot.
With eat, read, etc., the meaningvacillates between duration/frequencyand the amount
of the understood object:
(17) John ate/read/knitteda lot.
Moreover, the verbs in (16) and (17) can be coordinatedbefore these pronominals:
(18) During the week-end he ate and slept a lot.
We also find a lot after a process verb followed by an unquantifiedobject:
(19) He read poetry a lot.
However, (20) strikes me as impossible even on the frequency readingof a lot:
(20) He read something a lot.
The restrictionof this use of a lot to states and activities may be connected with the fact
that in its use as part of an NP a lot occurs with bare pluralsand mass nouns, witness
a lot of cakelcakes but *a lot of a cakelsome cakeslthreecakes.4 It has been pointed out
that there is a certain mereologicalanalogy between Vendler's time schemataand NPs,
such that states and activities correspondto unquantifiedNPs whereas accomplishments
and achievements correspond to quantifiedones. The analogy is this. If John sleeps or
eats peanuts during a certain time-span, then duringany subdivision of this time-span
he is also sleeping or eating peanuts. Similarly,for any quantityof porridgeor peanuts
we can imaginea subportionof that quantitywhich itself consists of porridgeor peanuts.

4 Note however that a lot of the cake is well-formed.Normallythe + N behaves like a quantifiedNP;
witness the ill-formednessof He ate the cakefor 10 minutes.The reasonfor this differenceis not clear to me.

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REMARKS AND REPLIES 117
But if John eats half a pound of peanuts duringa certain time-span, there is clearly no
subdivision of that time-span during which he is eating half a pound of peanuts (and
achievements do not involve time-spans at all). Similarly, there is no portion of three
cakes or a cake which consists of three cakes or a cake, respectively.5
2.3. The use of the present perfect simple to denote single, and usually recent, past
occurrences is confined to predicates that can be interpretedas achievements or ac-
complishmentsas opposed to both activities and states. This use can be broughtout by
the addition of just.6 Thus, it would be difficult to contextualize any of the following
utterances:
(21) I've just slept/been hungry. (states)
(22) I've just run/typed(letters). (activities)7
In contrast to (22), (23) is unproblematic:
(23) I've just typed some letters/something.
2.4. Consider the following examples:
(24) a. John wrote an article for The Times.
b. John wrote somethingfor The Times.
c. John wrote copy for The Times.
d. John wrote for The Times.
5I owe this point to Mark Stein and to unpublishedwork by Emmon Bach. One might object that a
subportionof a bare pluralsuch as cakes might be a cake or half a cake; and indeed in Bach (1980)the NP
partof the analogyis representedby mass versus count nouns ratherthanunquantifiedversus quantifiedNPs.
I do not believe that this arithmeticaldifferenceis linguisticallysignificantin the issue before us. It suffices
that in some cases a subportionof the denotatumof a bare pluralcan itself be denoted by the same bare
plural. What is more to the point is that this can also hold true of NPs containingthe quantifiersome, and
mutatismutandisit also appliesto predicatescontainingthis quantifier;mereologicallythey areakinto activities
ratherthan accomplishments.This indicatesthat we need to drawfiner distinctionsthan Vendler'sfour-part
scheme allows for. Cf. also the appendixto this remark.
6 McCawley (1971) calls the use of the perfect withjust the "hot news" use; Comrie(1976) calls it the
perfect of recent past. Leech (1971, 33) regards it as a subcategory of what he calls the perfect of indefinite
past, correspondingto McCawley's stative and Comrie's experientialperfect. I believe that it is in fact a
subcategoryof Leech's resultativepast use, correspondingto McCawley'sstative and Comrie'sperfect of
result. (Thus also Inoue (1978).) Both uses are confined to accomplishmentsand achievementsand, in my
view, focus on the present relevance of a single past event. These remarksdo not, however, constitute a
commitmentto the notion that the Englishperfectis polysemous.It may be possible and desirableto subsume
all uses of the perfect underone Grundbedeutung(cf. Inoue (1978)).There is, however, a level of analysis on
which it is useful to distinguishdifferentuses of the perfect precisely because they correlatewith different
"time schemata".
7 With many verbs, an object that is +delimited quantity]
[ may be implied. Thus, in the right context
I've just eaten may mean 'I've just eaten lunch'; and I've just writtenmay mean 'I've just writtena letter' to
a person presupposed by the context. Hence, my choice of the verb type above. Even for this verb the
restriction is not absolute; thus, Q. Why is the typewriter uncovered? A. I've just typed on it. For the same
reason, in a setting that presupposesthe Jewish dietarylaws a person who has been asked whetherhe wants
creamin his coffee may reply:No thanks.I've just eaten meat. And in a vegetariansettingthe question What
happened?(cf. below) may be answeredwith John'sjust eaten meat. The restrictiondoes applyfairlystrictly
to most stative verbs, however. I cannot contextualizeany of the followingsequences:
(i) I've just liked the film/knownFrench/wantedto go home.

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118 REMARKS AND REPLIES

(24a,b) are most naturally interpreted as referringto a single occasion because the
quantifiedobject is taken to refer to a single entity. In (24c) and even more so in (24d)
the absence of a quantifiedobject suggests a habitualreadingof the past tense.
Consider also (25a,b), with also focusing on John.
(25) a. John also sang something.
b. John also sang.
For (25a)John must have been a solo (or at least principal)performer;(25b)is compatible
with John's participatingin a choir.
2.5. The question What happened?, which picks out accomplishments and achieve-
ments, can be answered by (26) but not by (27):
(26) John typed some letters/something.
(27) John typed (letters).
(27) could at most serve as an answer to the question Whatwent on (in the kitchen last
night)?.
2.6. I conclude this section with a well-known distinctionfirst noted independentlyby
Garey (1957) and Kenny (1963). The inference in (28) is valid, whereas the inference in
(29a) is not valid if the reference of something is taken as identicalin the two sentences,
and the inference in (29b) is always invalid:
(28) John was eating D John ate.
(29) a. John was eating something D John ate something.
b. (3x (John was eating x) D (John ate x))

3. There remainsthe problemof how to account for the fact that any sentence with eat,
read, etc., implies a second argumentto the verb. An utteranceof (1) entitles us to ask:
What did he eat? But the answer to this question need not contain a quantifier.It can
take the form of (30):
(30) He ate peanuts/porridge.
Hence, the interrogativepronounwhat lacks the feature [ + delimitedquantity]inherent
in something.8 An utterance of (30) does of course entitle the questioner to persevere
with How many peanutslhow much porridge did he eat? But it is here that the tense is
crucial. (30) is in the simple past tense; the process of eating peanuts or porridge is
viewed as having come to an end. That is also why the inferencefrom (1) to (2) is valid.
If we play the question-and-answergame with (8), which representsa more typical use
of intransitiveeat than (1), we run into trouble.

8
Note that the derivationof what from wh+something (Katz and Postal (1964), Katz (1972, 205)) also
becomes untenable.

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REMARKS AND REPLIES 119

(31) Q. What is he eating?


A. He is eating peanuts/porridge.
Here the further question How many peanutslhow much porridge is he eating? is not
appropriatebecause (8) and the answer in (31) refer to a process that is still going on
at the time of utterance. Hence, the inference from (8) to (9) is not valid.
The real trouble is that English does not possess an assertive pronoun (such as
things or thing) that is [ -delimited quantity];and the classical predicate calculus does
not possess a correspondingoperator.9Nor does English have the means of makingthe
pronoun something partitive (He ate of something), which would have a similareffect
to an unquantifiedpronoun.'0One might, however, emend Fodor and Fodor's meaning
postulate by adding a partitive prepositionas follows:
(32) x EAT (By) x EAT of y

Appendix: On the Nature of Something


For purposes of concord, something functions as a singularNP. The question I wish to
raise is whether it is plus or minus for the feature [count].
The determiner some, which features as an element in this and other indefinite
pronouns, has two uses. Some, denotes an unspecified (but delimited) quantity. This
use occurs with plurals and [ -count] nouns, where it is in complementarydistribution
with the numeralone or with the so-called indefinite article according to whether it is
stressed or not. (Pronominalsome is the pluraland [ - count] equivalentof pronominal
one.) Some2, which is always stressed, denotes an unspecified, and typically unknown
(to the speaker), member of the class denoted by the noun. This use is broughtout by
the addition of or other after the noun, as in some book or other. In contemporary
English it seems to occur only with singularcount nouns; that is, it cannot denote several
unspecifiedmembersof a class (as opposed to an unspecifiednumberof members,which
is denoted by some1); and it does not occur as a pronoun. It can occur with nouns like
cheese, wine, etc., only when these are being used as [+count] nouns: some2 wine (or
other) can mean only 'some kind of wine'. It is thus equivalent in distributionto the
numeralone, and the two uses of some are themselves in complementarydistribution.
According to Jespersen (1949, 622), some2 is not a quantifier.Be that as it may, the NP
in which it occurs must be positive not only for the feature [delimitedquantity]but also
for [specified quantity]by virtue of the fact that it is singular[ + count].
If something contains some,, it is marked as [+delimited quantity, -specified

9 Cf. Allwood, Andersson, and Dahl (1977, 169). For an analysis of bare pluralsin terms of Montague
grammar,see Carlson(1977).
" I am not aware of any languagethat does, in fact, possess an unquantified
indefinitepronounor that
can makeits indefinitepronounpartitive.Thus, the Frenchpartitivepronounen is anaphoric;and the partitive
use of de, as in II mange du pain, does not occur with quelquechose. Nor do analogousconstructionsoccur
with the Russianand Finnishpronounsfor something.It wouldbe interestingto establishwhetheror not there
are languagesthat have either of these possibilities.

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120 REMARKS AND REPLIES

quantity, - count, + singular];if it contains some2, it is markedas [ + delimitedquantity,


+ specified quantity, +count, + singular]. I shall begin by setting up three straw men
in supportof the first analysis. First, one mightarguethat semanticallysomethingdiffers
from ordinary[ + count] singularsinasmuchas I ate somethingcan be used quite naturally
to report that I ate three sandwiches;I ate alone sandwich would be grossly misleading
in this situation.This argumentloses its force, however, if we considerthe entity denoted
by something as constituted ad hoc. Second, one might argue that something, unlike
ordinary singulars, has no plural analogue. But note that the same applies, from what
was said above, to singulars like some book. (Conversely, note that the noun people,
which is a true plural, lacks a singular.)Finally, something differsfrom some book (and
other [+ count] singulars)in that it cannot be pronominalizedin the one: I read that in
some book; perhaps it was the one you lent me but *I read something about it but it
wasn't the one you mentioned to me. This merely indicates, however, that the NP
antecedent of the one must have a lexical head. The thing component in something is
a bound form in contemporaryEnglish. Note also that somebody and someone, which
are clearly singular, cannot be pronominalizedby the one either.
I am not aware of any evidence that definitely supports,the [-count] analysis of
something, and I shall now present two arguments, albeit both rather slight ones, in
favor of the [ + count] analysis. The first derives from the expression somethingor other,
which points to a clear affinity with some2. The second concerns the cooccurrence
restrictions for telic durationalslike in 10 minutes. These are in general restricted to
accomplishment predicates whose object NPs are positive for the feature [specified
quantity]. Thus, instead of the ill-formed(1la) with its atelic durationalwe find (33a),
but instead of (1lb) we do not have (33b):
(11) a. *Johnate half a pound of peanuts/fourhelpings of porridgefor 10 minutes.
b. *John ate some peanuts/porridgefor 10 minutes.
(33) a. John ate half a pound of peanuts/fourhelpings of porridgein 10 minutes.
b. *John ate some peanuts/porridgein 10 minutes.
The reason for the unacceptabilityof (33b) may be that telic durationalsfocus on the
shortness of the time-span in which an accomplishmentis completed; in the absence of
a specified quantity object NP, the extent of John's "accomplishment" cannot be
evaluated." Without a context (34) is also unacceptable(though better than (33b)):
(34) John ate something in 10 minutes.
One can, however, construct sentences in which a process verb + something can occur
" Note that John read for (at least) 2 hours can be true even if John read for more than two hours.
Likewise, It took John (at least) 2 hours to read the article can be true if in fact it took him longer. However,
John read the article in 2 hours would be false in this situation;and at least is incompatiblewith telic
durationals: *He wrote it in at least 2 hours. (Cf. also Mittwoch (1980).)
Telic durationalscan occur in sentences like the following,as spoken to someone in a hurry:I can make
you some porridgein 5 minutes. Here the quantityis irrelevant;it is the cooking time of porridgeratherthan,
say, rice that counts. Thus also: It only takes 5 minutes to cook porridge.

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REMARKS AND REPLIES 121

with a telic durational,where some Ns would be questionable:


(35) John wrote something/?someletters in 10 minutes which it took me half an
hour to translate.
We find a similardifferencewith sentences like (36), which do not focus on the shortness
of the time-span involved:
(36) It will take me at least three hours to write something/?someletters.
Thus, apart from the specific peculiarity of telic durationalsmentioned above, there
seems to be something fundamentallyincoherent about measuring the time-span of
accomplishmentswhose object NPs are [ + delimitedquantity, - specified quantity](cf.
also note 5). If the differences exemplified in (35) and (36) are significant,they provide
supportfor the [1+count] analysis of something.

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Department of English
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel

The Contraction Debate

Paul M. Postal, Geoffrey K. Pullum

Section 1 of this article points out descriptive shortcomingsof two recent accounts of
English to contraction in terms of "trace theory" (TT), Jaeggli (1980) and Chomsky
(1980b). Section 2 reviews ten distinct attempts by TT advocates to handle the data in
this domain, and shows why all, includingthe latest two, fail to yield a viable description.
Section 3 offers an informalgeneralizationindependentof TT which accounts for all the
data underlyingthe decade-long debate about to contraction. Section 4 suggests some
conclusions to be drawn from the fact that the ten mutuallycontradictoryTT accounts
all fail descriptively as well as, a fortiori, at the level of explanation,and comments on
the fact that TT enthusiasts continue to cite to contraction as an explanatory success
of TT.
1. "Case-marked" Traces and Two Further "Trace Theory" Failures
The data to be accounted for include contrasts like those between (1) and (2).
(1) a. Who do you want to kiss?
b. Who do you want to kiss you?
(2) a. Who do you wanna kiss?
b. *Who do you wanna kiss you?
The burgeoning literature on this problem is reviewed in section 2; we assume that
readers are familiar with most of it. The newest proposed solutions appear in Jaeggli
(1980)and Chomsky (1980b, 158-160). Althoughthey are very similar,we must consider
them independentproposals since neither one cites the other. Both utilize certain prin-
ciples suggested in Chomsky (1980a) for markingNPs with "Case". (The capital C is
Chomsky's; our quotation marks indicate that this use of the word "Case" does not
relate directly to the English morphological distinction on pronouns. "Case" is an
abstract feature of NPs, including "empty" NP nodes.)
The authors would like to thank G. Carden, D. Frantz, F. J. Newmeyer, W. Plath, A. Radford,R. P.
Stockwell, and an anonymousLI referee for helpfulcommentson an earlierdraft. Any remainingerrorsare
attributableto evil spirits.

Linguistic Inquiry, Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 1982


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