Treatment of “about”


The sense inventory in ODE has one fewer sense than NODE. NODE's subsense 1b (DIMAP 3), "be involved or to do with; have the intention of" (ex: it's all about having fun; you don't wander into the Congo without knowing what you're about) has disappeared from ODE and is presumed to be covered by the core sense. This core sense, 1(1), is indeed central to the idea of about, in FrameNet at any rate, and covers 90% of the FrameNet instances, and is the sense of about used in all other prepositions that include about in their definitions. There are some distinctions within this, but probably not enough to merit splitting it any further.


Notes from the spreadsheet:


New sense added: (Spreadsheet record 5) ODE gives a fairly full account of round as a preposition (8 sense in total), but it fails to note at about that about is a suitable substitute for round in many of these instances: certainly all senses subsumed under round prep senses 1 and 2, and occasionally in the other senses. The American choice for these is around, not round; Americans might occasionally use about for these, and would never use round, but their first choice would be around. I added this sense because everything labeled with it can be inherited by round/around, which I take to be more primitive for this meaning. It is subsumed under the movement sense, since movement is nearly always involved. Definition: around.


Other instances of about that may deserve idiomatic treatment

The phrases in ODE are not prepositional and probably would not be confused with about PPs.

About is the second term in a number of transitive phrasal verbs where it could easily be interpreted (falsely) by a parser as the head of a PP. These include bring about, go about, hang about, and set about. The suggesting form How about. . .? is probably identifiable on its own since it always begins a sentence or clause.

The throwaway phrase no doubt about it belongs to sense 1(1).



Other Notes:

I.                    Since both the examination data and the dictionary definitions are essentially British, the representation of about in both FrameNet and ODE is probably skewed from an American English point of view. I think it would be safe to assume that all instances of around in FrameNet that share the same Frame and Frame Elements with about instances can be assigned the same SRTypes without inspection; there is a nearly 1:1 correspondence in the Brit:Am uses of these two prepositions in the two senses marked "chiefly Brit" in ODE, that is, 3(2) and 4(3).

II.                 FrameNet errors/idiosyncrasies:


1. FrameNet tags about as a preposition in


" M9 is slightly more vigorous ; trees will reach about 8ft , and need good soil."


I've annotated this as "adverb3" in the instances file, corresponding to ODE's adverb sense 3.


2. FrameNet identifies "add" as the POA in a number of sentences in frame Statement, Element Topic. In fact the POA is a noun that follows "add" in each case — "comments," "details," and "information" — but this does not change the sense assignment.