Remarks on denominal verbs

Word meaning confronts us, as acutely as anything in syntax, with what Chomsky has called Plato’s problem.1 We know far more about the meaning of almost any word than we could have learned just from our exposure to uses of it. Communication would be unbearably laborious if we did not share with other speakers the ability to generalize the meanings of words in the right ways. As Fodor (1981) notes in arguing for the innateness of lexical semantics, the most we might plausibly have learned about meaning of the verb paint is that it means something like “to cover with paint”. Even if we have only seen this done with a brush, we have no hesitation in applying the verb correctly to novel techniques of painting, such as rolling, spraying, or dipping. But when a vat of paint explodes in a paint factory, covering everyone with paint, or when Vel´.
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