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Beyond Aristotle and gradience: A reply to Aarts

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Aarts (2004) argues that the best way to model grammatical categories is a compromise preserving Aristotelian form classes with sharp boundaries on the one hand, and allowing gradience in terms of the number of syntactic properties that a category member possesses on the other. But the assumption of form classes causes serious theoretical and empirical problems. Constructions differ in their distributional patterns, but no a priori principles exist to decide which constructions should be used to define form classes. Grammatical categories must be defined relative to specific constructions; this is the position advocated in Radical Construction Grammar (Croft 2001). Constructionally defined categories may have sharp boundaries, but they do not divide words into form classes. Nevertheless, the most important traditional intuitions for parts of speech (Aarts' chief examples) are reinterpretable in terms of crosslinguistic universals that constrain distributional variation but do not impose Aristotelian form classes, gradable or not, on the grammars of particular languages.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2007

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