What do the following concepts have in common lexically? (1) understanding; (2) judging; (3) experiencing; (4) finding out; (5) dating; (6) consulting; (7) visiting; (8) ensuring; (9) escorting; and (10) sending away?
I won't tell you just yet. Let's see just how many minutes it takes to get a correct answer entered in the comments below. Looking in pages 118-119 of Nikolas Gisborne's new book The Event Structure of Perception Verbs (OUP, 2010) counts as cheating, so don't do that…
Well, you Language Log readers are just incredible; the first commenter to get the right answer (i.e., the first commenter) had completed posting in under three minutes from the random time (11:51 a.m. Eastern) at which I posted the question. Yes, the answer is that they are all expressed by the one verb see. I thought that by leaving all reference to visual perception off the list (sneaky!) I was at least going to slow you down a bit, but it was not so.
Not all of you will have seen how all the senses can be exemplified, so here are a few examples:
- understanding: I see what you're saying.
- judging: I see honesty as the fundamental prerequisite.
- experiencing: Our business saw some hard times last year.
- finding out: I'll see whether he's available.
- dating: I heard that she's seeing someone.
- consulting: You need to see a doctor.
- visiting: I'd be go and see my aunt for a while.
- ensuring: I'll see that this is done immediately.
- escorting: Let me see you to your car.
- sending away: I'll come to the airport and see you off.
Sometimes (and I feel that I may perhaps have said this before) I wonder how and why human languages seem to be so completely content with the wild and multifarious polysemy and ambiguity that afflicts them. The people who think clarity involves lack of ambiguity, so we have to strive to eliminate all multiple meanings and should never let a word develop a new sense… they simply don't get it about how language works, do they?