As is well known, the light verb may be defined, at least in modern English, as a morphosyntactically verbal lexeme lacking its own ‘heavy’ inherent lexical semantics.1 This should not be taken to mean, however, as some have taken it to mean,2 that the light verb is a black hole, sucking in3 meaning not only higgledy-ly piggledy-ly but also willily-
Y’know, I’ve just reread that last paragraph7 and I reckon its wordiness and dense phraseology are exceeded only by its pretentiousness and its anti-
How’s that cocoa going? Did you string up that hammock? No matter; let us proceed. If have a think about, meaning undergo the process of thinking, exemplifies the first type of light verb semantics for have, the ostensibly similar phrase have some thoughts about exemplifies the second. Here the semantics is not one in which the subject undergoes the experience of some domain projected by the object, but instead an associative relationship (which may be prototypically possessive) in which the subject of have owns, controls or holds the reference of the grammatical object. ‘Part-
Loud and clear, I hear you ask the inevitable question: is there no morphosyntactic reflex of this semantic asymmetry? Well, Austen may open with “It is a truth universally acknowledged, blah, blah, blah” and Brontë may offer “Reader, I married him.” Sensing that neither is fully germane here, I’ll reply simply, “Yes.” Take the use of the so-called progressive aspect (be + V-ing) in English. This works well with Set A(lpha) but never with Set B(eta): “I’ve been having a shower” versus “I’ve been having a family”. Frequency adverbials can modify set [eɪ] but not Set [bi:]: “I have a cold every three weeks”; “I have a party twice a year” but not “I have a large nose four times a week”. Thirdly, the verb in Set ʾalep13 can often be replaced or the object can become the verb (“I took a bath / bathed”, “I ate breakfast / breakfasted”; “I took a holiday / holidayed”). Not so for Set bet.14 Finally, Set B accepts a rephrasing with “I really like your X” which is not available for Set A: “I really like your wife, nose, family” but not “I really like your shower” (in the relevant sense).
So, syntax semanticises
Harmony; scented candles all round and the sweet smell of lavender in the air.
The light verbs shine with the light of form-
Yet, and here’s the Lee Van Cleef of the whole murky affair, these two broad semantic patterns have (no pun intended) exceptions. And, to illustrate the point, we’ll take the urination, defecation and procreation examples of the title: have a poo, have a wee and have a baby15 (the last of course neither as a synonym of have a cow, man or in the sense of “You have a terribly ugly baby, Your Royal Highness”, but rather in its reading of “give birth”). Although the syntactic tests place these in category A, their semantics would beckon us down other paths: the set A examples all result in the consuming or using up of the object whose properties are infused into the subject: in have a bath the cleaning potentialities of the bath wash away the dirt of the grammatical subject; in have a party the fun and laughter character of the party is taken on (in theory) by the party-
Wee, poo and baby straddle our once clean and clear semantic distinction!
Zoom! Ka-zaam! The punches are thrown and both pugilists lie face-up and panting in the pig-
1 If you had to mark my freshman syntax papers, you’d know it can be defined pretty much anyhow including ‘verbs like shine, gleam, glitter and twinkle’.
2 Among them, Plato, Nietzsche, and that chap down the pub the other night.
3 I know black holes don’t suck (unless you’re caught in one).
4 I.e. the ones that come with free delivery.
5 Ironically, it was someone else’s copy of GTA which we’d earlier thieved from them using an automobile (my niece’s idea; I just wanted to do a jigsaw).
6 Of all Duns Scotus one-
7 Someone has to and the editor charges for proofreading.
8 Have you considered have before? Maybe you have.
9 Mussorgsky’s cover of Beethoven’s 5th 2nd movement would go well with this. As would the chardonnay.
10 The <A> may be read as [eɪ] or alpha. The editor would prefer it not to be read as ʾalep unless any reader self-
11 Or, indeed, have a small nose; but not have a nose for, be nosey, nose something out, or he knows where you live.
12 Again, [bi:] or beta are acceptable; we prefer not bet as you might lose money.
13 I self-
14 I bet my best buddy Betty I could use bet.
15 Others are better placed than me to draw out the semiotic symbolism of excretion and reproduction to the English light verb and I shall leave them to do so.
|The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective|
|SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 1 Contents|