The verb akoúō ‘hear’ in Homeric Greek can indicate concrete aural perception as well as acquisition of knowledge by hearsay, and mean ‘learn’. In addition, it can denote an uncontrolled state, either perceptual or cognitive, the controlled activity of listening, or an inchoative event. In this paper, we discuss its syntax and semantics and compare it with klúō ‘listen to’, which indicates activities, and punthánomai ‘learn’, which mostly has an inchoative meaning. We show that construction variation is connected with animacy of the stimulus, and is not triggered by semantic differences in the verbal meaning, with the partial exception of punthánomai when indicating uncontrolled situations. Different actionalities expressed by the three verbs are often matched by verbal aspect. We argue that the figurative extension of hearing to learning is explained through pragmatic inference. The same can be said of the much better studied metaphorical extension of seeing to knowing. Different meanings of perception verbs when referring to the domain of cognition are based on embodiment, in that they depend on our knowledge of the structure of perception events.
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