Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Martha Palmer

Second Advisor

Bhuvana Narasimhan

Third Advisor

Albert Kim

Fourth Advisor

Laura Michaelis

Fifth Advisor

Suzanne Stevenson


English light verb constructions (LVCs), such as have a drink, make an offer, take a bath, do an investigation, and give a groan, represent a powerfully expressive resource of English; however, the definition, linguistic function and productivity of English LVCs remain unclear. This research focuses on exploring these three issues. A definition for LVCs that combines syntactic and semantic criteria is given after a survey of existing research on delimiting and defining LVCs. This definition is implemented in the development of a LVC annotation schema for the PropBank project, and these annotations are in turn used in the development of the state-of- the-art automatic system for identifying LVCs. Existing research on the linguistic function of LVCs both cross-linguistically and in English is analyzed, and a corpus study provides evidence that the primary function of LVCs in English is to enable speakers to describe events in a manner that can take advantage of rich nominal modification, for example, The inspector general did a rather controversial investigation... Finally, linguistic and cognitive approaches to the development of grammar and the extension of constructions are discussed, and the hypothesis that novel constructions are extended by semantic analogy to an existing, highly frequent exemplar is tested in the domain of LVCs, using large-scale Mechanical Turk surveys. In closing, the potential impact of these findings on both Natural Language Processing and linguistic theory are presented, as well as opportunities for future work.