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Semantic analysis of Because Powell, Mava Jo

Abstract

This semantic analysis of because contains a general study of its potential as the focus of a sentence, and a specific study of its causative and non-causative meaning. In Chapter I, I discuss previous linguistic research on because and because-clauses. One conclusion that seems clear from the data is that because can be the central point of attention in a sentence. I investigate this prominence in Chapter II. I begin by redefining the term "focus," synthesising criteria from other definitions. The redefinition denotes phonological and syntactic rules which speakers apply to emphasize certain parts of a sentence. Then I demonstrate that these rules apply to because, thereby establishing that because can he focussed. In Chapter III, I turn to a more restricted problem. I investigate the semantic features of because which are common to reason-and causal-explanations. I propose that, in its underlying form, because has the feature [+cause]. Sentences in which because appears with the features [+cause] do not contain the lexical items "cause" or "reason." I also describe two conditioned variants of because. One, having the feature [+cause], occurs with the noun or verb cause. The other, having the feature [-cause], occurs with the noun reason. The results of this study confirm evidence accumulating from other linguistic investigations that grammatical words are semantically full, and that they can be described by theoretical terminology appropriate to non-grammatical words. A number of recent publications have appeared on the semantic description of complementation structures, coordinating conjunctions, and determiners. There is comparatively little recent publication on subordinating conjunctions. Even less information is available on lexical items which have been classified both as subordinating conjunctions and as reason adverbials. Within this classification, the word because is an especially important member. From the point of view of linguistics, it is significant as one of the few subordinatores which can occur as a one-word utterance. I investigate the implications of this status under the theoretical term "focus." Furthermore, although no one has claimed that "because is semantically empty, no one has agreed upon its precise meaning, nor has anyone studied the word in depth. Because is also significant from the point of view of linguistic philosophy. The problem of defining reason- and causal-explanations has a long scholarly history. The results of this investigation demonstrate that because is a crucial word for this problem. I show that when because occurs in a sentence either with the lexical items "reason" or "cause," because assimilates in sense to these items. Thus, in these environments, the sense of because is conditioned. But when because occurs in sentences which do not contain those lexical items, because can be synonymously paraphrased either by "reason" or by "cause." Therefore, because is a word whose meaning is common both to reason- and causal-explanations.

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