Author Topic: The word "paint"  (Read 293 times)

Offline phospholipid

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The word "paint"
« on: May 14, 2017, 10:16:20 PM »
I've been bandying about with a friend what appears to be a particular quirk of the word "paint". Consider:

1) I paint a tree
2) I paint a tree

Assume that in #1, "I paint a tree" means "I render a tree using paint."
Assume that in #2, "I paint a tree" means "I apply paint to a tree."

It seems to use that in #1 the word "tree" is in the accusative case whereas in #2 the word "tree" is in dative. It also appears that you can drop the words "a tree" from both #1 and #2 and they still can grammatically express their original ideas. It also appears that "paint" in both, while having different definitions, still roughly involves the application of paint.

Is there any other English word that can fulfill the following criteria:

It can appear in:
A) identical constructions each where the word has
B) slightly but not entirely different lexical meanings and where it
C) assigns a different case in each situation (optional) and
D) where losing the object does not change the meaning of the sentence
??

For example, these pairs almost work, but they fails criteria B and D:

1) I ran a race. (I competed in an athletic event)
2) I ran a race. (I organized an athletic event)

The meanings of "run" are just too different; moreover, #2 cannot lose the object because that use of "run" requires an argument like "a race" (or "a meeting" or "a business").

Any thoughts?

Offline Daniel

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2017, 11:04:04 PM »
Interesting observations.

The only thing that comes to mind immediately is that there are some verbs that involve creation that might also apply to existing objects:
"I bake a cake"
That could either mean creating a cake by baking, or that you take an existing cake and (for some unusual reason) bake it in the oven. A similar (but semantically exceptional) example would be "make a/the bed".

Note that 'paint a tree' in the sense of making art with a tree in it is also a verb of creation, where the meaning is 'render a tree by painting', so studies about the transitivity of verbs might also be of some relevance to you.

But paint is, as you point out, interesting for having all three of those properties. I'm not sure that all/any of those are particularly special in themselves, but it would be interesting to figure out why and whether there is a more general pattern or just an ambiguity in that particular verb.

Of course some near synonyms do seem to pattern similarly, like "to color" but that's in narrower/more obscure usage in at least one of the senses. Maybe "to design" could work as well.

Anyway, interesting to think about, and I'll keep thinking about it and if I come up with more I'll reply again.

--

Regarding the cases, why specifically do you think one is accusative and the other dative? That may be reasonable under some analysis, but English doesn't really give any distinction (just the 'oblique') morphologically or otherwise in terms of surface syntax. Looking at a cognate language, if there is one with the same ambiguity, could be helpful. Maybe German:
http://dict.leo.org/german-english/malen
But I don't see clear evidence in that (usually very helpful) dictionary for this particular question, so you might need to investigate in more detail.

--

Edit:
Verbs of filling and emptying also display some overlap:
I filled/emptied the water.
I filled/emptied the container.

And maybe operating:
I drove the car/course.
I flew the plane/distance.

Note that the overlap with the same object is rarer in these cases but technically possible:
I filled the water with dye.
I flew the remote controlled helicopter the [distance of the] plane.

Paint stands out as remarkably versatile, though, and the others don't clearly fulfill all three criteria.

But by the way, I'd say only 'paint [on] the tree' can be used intransitively ('paint'), as in "Did you paint?", because that does not imply the end of the event (telicity) so there would not necessarily be anything (e.g., a painted tree) created, although a physical tree would indeed have become (partially) covered in paint. So "Did you fly?" seems reasonably parallel.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2017, 11:39:28 PM by Daniel »
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Offline phospholipid

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2017, 09:51:53 AM »
"Regarding the cases, why specifically do you think one is accusative and the other dative? That may be reasonable under some analysis, but English doesn't really give any distinction..."

Yeah, the case topic was how the conversation started. I feel pretty comfortable with case and, as you said, the defense could be made for the ones I picked--and likely a pretty strong one. I did a bunch of work on English dative and blah blah... But in this situation, it's likely an unnecessary. I think what my original asker was getting as is thematic roles which is much simpler way to navigate this problem. With that in mind, what I'm seeing from paint is a word that:

A) Can appear in identical constructions where the word has
B) slightly but not entirely different lexical meanings and where it
C) assigns a different thematic role in each situation and where
D) losing the object does not change the meaning of the sentence

In that capacity the examples you came up with a pretty darn good. In particular I love the "I drive" and "I fly" examples. As you mentioned, they still don't quite fit.

There must be some other verb that can do this. Going with your idea of creating, I was trying to make "birth" work:

"I birth the baby" 1) I give birth 2) I facilitated somebody who was giving birth.

But I don't think you can use "birth" in the sense of being an OB or a midwife. It's not in the OED. There is an ontologically reflexive use that is rare: "It is difficult to perceive how I am related to it, how I birth from it, or decease into it." But I can't find a pragmatic use that I can also bend towards the more conventional definition.

Offline Daniel

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2017, 04:48:59 PM »
"Birth" actually sounds reasonable to me. There may be some pragmatic coercion going on, but it seems to work. Not as well as "paint" though. (The 'creation' sense seems to be reversed for the primary and secondary meanings, as well.)

As for:
"D) losing the object does not change the meaning of the sentence"
I still don't agree with this, at least with the different meanings. "I paint" is a very general statement about the subject and the use of paints in an art (or decorating, or wall-coloring, etc.) activity. The object MUST be present in order for the ambiguity to come about, and I think the 'paint thus creating a tree' meaning is inherent to that transitive construction. So in that sense, it reminds me of some other transitive-specific constructions where an object doesn't necessarily/obviously 'belong' there, as in the 'Reaction Object Construction' (something like "smiled a greeting", or "the way construction" (as in "He walked his way to the store"). Looking at the 'create a tree' meaning as part of a transitive construction might be helpful.

--
It also may be possible to argue that 'paint a tree' has exactly the same meaning in both cases, except that in the second the tree is imaginary/painted rather than physical. So it also involves an act of creation, by painting, but "what" you are painting is the (imaginary outline of a) tree. In other words, either way, you are applying paint to the surface of a tree-- one is just imaginary, and the other is already there physically. Note that in the imaginary case, no real tree is created anyway, and it's still an abstract representation, hinted at by being 'covered in' paint.

My point with that (probably odd sounding) perspective is that you could actually try to unify the two meanings (at least historically). It's a property of art that the things we create/decorate may be abstract, unreal, or maybe even imaginary. In the end, it's somewhat parallel to other verbs like "sing" where you can sing-and-create a song, or just sing an existing song.

By the way, a 'perfect synonym' still in the domain of art might be 'tattoo'-- "I tattooed the man [onto his arm]."
« Last Edit: May 16, 2017, 04:54:12 PM by Daniel »
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Offline vox

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2017, 05:41:10 PM »
Isn’t 'to smell' ambiguous too in english for thematic roles ?  'I smell garlic' can mean whether to emit an odor of garlic or to detect an odor of garlic, right ? But if the subject is not an animate the ambiguity disappears. I think the semantic features of the subject are directly involved to determine whether ambiguity is possible or not (assuming that the subject is not ambiguous !).       

Offline Daniel

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2017, 09:13:45 PM »
"I smell garlic" can only mean that I detect the odor of garlic. "I smell" could mean either, including "I smell like garlic." Lexically (but not constructionally) the ambiguity is similar, though.
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Offline vox

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2017, 11:05:29 AM »
Oops ok. I’ve been given wrong information.

Offline phospholipid

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2017, 10:27:56 AM »
Quote
As for:
"D) losing the object does not change the meaning of the sentence"
I still don't agree with this, at least with the different meanings. "I paint" is a very general statement about the subject and the use of paints in an art (or decorating, or wall-coloring, etc.) activity. The object MUST be present in order for the ambiguity to come about, and I think the 'paint thus creating a tree' meaning is inherent to that transitive construction. So in that sense, it reminds me of some other transitive-specific constructions where an object doesn't necessarily/obviously 'belong' there, as in the 'Reaction Object Construction' (something like "smiled a greeting", or "the way construction" (as in "He walked his way to the store"). Looking at the 'create a tree' meaning as part of a transitive construction might be helpful.

I hear you. But I still assert that it at least does not necessarily change the meaning of the sentence. "I paint" is a very general statement. And it may well be ambiguous. However, (and I think this argument scans better in the progressive) consider that:

"I am painting a tree" as in "I am covering a tree in paint" can be communicated with the less informative "I am painting" and still make sense.

"I am painting a tree" as in "I am rendering a tree" can be communicated with the less informative "I am painting" and still make sense.

Or, looking at profession:

"I paint houses" as in "I cover housed with paint" can be said "I paint" and it makes sense. The object is gone but the job is still done. It is done with less information, but it is still grammatical and it still entails the original idea.

"I paint houses" as in "I render houses on canvas" can be said "I paint" and it makes sense. The object is gone but the same idea is entailed in the statement.

I don't deny that some ambiguity is introduced. But, I don't know that the ambiguity is a destabalizing one or one that disrupts meaning. To me, at least, the experience of "I paint" is the same as "I paint houses" "I paint pictures" or "I paint a tree" except only slightly less informative.

Also... as I'm typing this I'm wondering if animacy is part of the reason the "tree" example feels uncomfortable. When I said "I paint houses" I was less uncomfortable with both meanings and found myself less interested in finding out why it could be so. And with "I paint cats" one meaning is clear and the other is funny. But a tree being alive and in nature is still inanimate, but it's also not something we would often paint. So there may be some latent instability in the original example that brings it to attention.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2017, 01:03:19 PM by phospholipid »

Offline phospholipid

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2017, 10:35:44 AM »
Quote
It also may be possible to argue that 'paint a tree' has exactly the same meaning in both cases, except that in the second the tree is imaginary/painted rather than physical. So it also involves an act of creation, by painting, but "what" you are painting is the (imaginary outline of a) tree. In other words, either way, you are applying paint to the surface of a tree-- one is just imaginary, and the other is already there physically. Note that in the imaginary case, no real tree is created anyway, and it's still an abstract representation, hinted at by being 'covered in' paint.

My point with that (probably odd sounding) perspective is that you could actually try to unify the two meanings (at least historically). It's a property of art that the things we create/decorate may be abstract, unreal, or maybe even imaginary. In the end, it's somewhat parallel to other verbs like "sing" where you can sing-and-create a song, or just sing an existing song.

I'll think about this for a while.

Also, yes to "tattoo." That's an interesting one through the filter of pragmatics. "I am tattooing a tree" can only mean one thing. "I am tattooing a woman" can mean two things. "I am tattooing a dog" gets bizarre.

I don't find the same to be true of other creative words. "sculpt" and "draw" don't work.

Perhaps "decoupage" works? "I decoupage a table" could mean you are applying decoupage to a table or you are using the technique of decoupage to form an image of a table.

So, what do "paint" "decoupage" and "tattoo" have in common that "mold" "sculpt" and "draw" do not share?

Offline Daniel

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Re: The word "paint"
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2017, 03:06:05 PM »
Tattoo is apparently based on the model of paint. Other verbs can be used that way, I think by analogy:
I'm gluegunning a tree.
I'm welding a tree.
I'm branding a tree.
I'm glittering a tree.
I'm polkadotting a tree.
I'm stamping a tree.
?I'm dollaring a tree. (Where 'to dollar' is a productively-zero-derived verb meaning "to make/cover in dollar bills".)

All of these verbs like paint are ambiguous between the sense of "cover in a substance (mark)" and "create by using a substance (marking)".
In short, I think "to color" might be a better example of this pattern because the others follow it. Brand is interesting because it's not coloring per se, but still clearly similar.

The class of verbs could be defined instead as those verbs of art that entail the creation of art (e.g., including "a tree") via a process of covering/coloring.

--

Of your examples, "sculp" and "mold" do seem to work for me in a related sense, where you could imagine (in some alternative universe) using a tree as clay to create a work of art. But that's the opposite, where the 'create a tree' meaning is the default and the 'decorate an existing tree' meaning is secondary.
"Carve", however, does come a little closer and has more overlap with the color/paint class.

--

Another possibility might be engineer:
I'm engineering a tree.
But the meaning there is slightly different.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2017, 03:09:15 PM by Daniel »
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