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Generic statements with eat and drink verbs are open to specialised interpretations simply because their default reading – ‘X habitually performs the act of eating/drinking’ is pragmatically odd. Eating and drinking are the two most fundamental acts of human existence, and habitually performing them is a basic prerequisite for sustaining life. Saying of someone that He eats (or, indeed, He drinks, on the reading ‘drink fluids in general’) is therefore a redundant statement, as humans or animates which do not eat or drink simply do not exist.

Swadesh, Morris. 1946. Chitimacha. In Linguistic structures of Native America, Harry Hoijer (Ed), 312–36. New York NY: The Viking Fund.  John Newman Wadley, Susan S.  Derr. 1990. Eating sins in Karimpur. India through Hindu categories, McKim Marriott (Ed), 131–48. New Delhi and Newbury Park, California: Sage. Welmers, William E. 1973. African language structures. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wierzbicka, Anna. 1982. Why can you have a drink when you can’t *have an eat? Language 58(4): 753–799.

Eat’ and ‘drink’, though such commonplace concepts, are not monolithic concepts; rather, they are peculiarly complex in their multi-facetedness. Each of these concepts is comprised of components which can motivate aspects of their linguistic behavior, whether it be morphosyntactic or semantic beahviour. The biting and chewing activity associated with eating, for example, motivates the common transitivity of ‘eat’ verbs as well as the common semantic extension of ‘eat’ to  John Newman meanings like ‘destroy’ and ‘conquer’.

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A Grammar of Classical Japanese by Akira Komai


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