A General Summary On Sentence Semantics English Language Essay

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There are certain entities in a sentence which initiate, experience and carryout the action. They are all generally termed as thematic roles according to their place and role. In this chapter we examine the thematic roles, its grammatical function, its criticisms and linguistics descriptions. For example, in the sentence Gin raised car with a jack, Gin is the entity responsible for initiating and carrying out the action, and the car is acted upon, and jack is the means by which Gin is able to cause the action. The author lists out the following thematic roles in this chapter. They are acting as agent, patient, theme, experience, beneficiary, instrument, location, goal and source in the following statements respectively, 1.David cooked the rashers 2.The sun melted the ice 3.The book is in the library 4.Mary saw the smoke 5.They baked me a cake 6.They signed the treaty with the same pen 7.The monster was hiding under the bed 8.Pat told the to his friends 9.The plane came back from London

The noun phrase the rock would be a patient and a theme in the following sentences.

1.Fred shattered the rock.

2.Fred threw the rock.

Some writers have suggested that agent is the particular type of more general thematic role actor where actor expresses the participant which performs, instigates or controls the situation denoted by predicate.

Eg. The car ran over the hedgehog.

While these roles actor, agent, patient, experience, theme, instrument, my seem intuitively clear, in practice it is sometimes difficult to know which role assign to a particular noun phrase.

Eg. Fergus carried the bag to the lighthouse.

Babu bought him a sports car.

Raju received a gift of flowers.

It raises the question whether a single entity can fulfil two or three thematic roles at the same time. That's why the idea that one entry might fulfil more than one role is elaborated into a theory of tiers of thematic roles. Here, the thematic tier describes spatial relations whereas the action tier describes actor-patient type relations.

Action tier roles: actor, agent, experience, patient, beneficiary, instrument.

Thematic tier roles: theme, goal, source, location.

There are matchings between thematic roles and grammatical relations. The subject of the sentence often corresponds to the agent, the direct object to the theme, while the instrument often occurs as a prepositional phrase.

Grammatical relations and thematic grids is the next part examined by the author. There are two basic situations where the general subject-agent is not a case. The first is where roles are simply omitted, and the grammatical relations shift to react to this. The second is where the speaker choose to alter the usual matching between roles and grammatical relations.

Eg. Ursula broke the ice with the pickaxe.

The pickaxe broke the ice.

The ice broke.

In these statements the verb break allows all the three thematic roles to occupy subject position. Several writers have suggested that this process of different roles occupying the subject position is a hierarchical process. Using this we can construct a simple example of a universal subject hierarchy like the following one.

Agent >Recipient/Benefactive>Theme/Patient>Instrument>Location

It is little difficult to think of English examples with location as subject, unless we include sentences like

1This cottage sleeps five adults.

2The table seats eight.

But the other positions on the hierarchy occur regularly in the following statements.

Agent subject: The thief stole the wallet.

Experience subject: I forgot the address.

Recipient subject: The building suffered a direct hit.

Patient subjects: The bowl cracked.

In the generative grammar literature this listing of thematic roles is often caiied a thematic-role grid or theta gridfor short.

Eg. putV: <Agent, Theme, Location>

The above thematic grid for put in the following sentence predicts that this verb might form a sentence like

John put the book on the shelf.

Of course, not all nominals in a sentence are arguments of a verb and thus specified in verbal theta grids in the lexican.

Eg. Roland put the book in the bathroom.

Roland read the book in the bathroom.

In the above two sentences, the former gets in the bathroom as an argument while the latter doesn't. So adjuncts are seen as less structurally attached to the verb in a sentence.

English has a set of transfer or giving verbs which in one subclass includes the verbs give, lend, supply, pay, donate, contribute. These verbs encode a view of the transfer from the perspective of the agent. Their thematic grid is V:<Agent, Theme, Recipient>

Vishwa loaned the money to Raju.

Another subclass of these transfer verbs encodes the transfer from the perspective of the recipient. These verbs include receive, accept, borrow, buy, purchase, rent, hire. Their thematic grid follows


Michael borrowed the money from Barbara

The problems associated with the simple picture of thematic roles

Authors disagree about what, if any, distinctions are to be made between PATIENT and THEME, for example, or between AGENT and related roles like ACTOR, EXPERIENCER, etc.

Dixon identifies eight types of affectedness: a range including the minimal contact of the verb touch where

Possibly no change occurs in the PATIENT, through rub where the surface of the PATIENT might be affected, and squeeze where a temporary change of shape in the PATIENT occurs, to smash where the PATIENT loses its physical integrity:

John touched the lamp with his toe.

The captain rubbed the cricket ball with dirt.

Henry squeezed the rubber duck in his hands.

Alison smashed the ice cube with her heel.

Dowty proposes that we view the roles not as discrete and bounded categories but instead as prototypes, where there may be different degrees of membership. He suggests that there are two basic prototypes: Proto-Agent and Proto-Patient, each of which would contain characteristic lists of entailments such as those in the following

Properties of the Agents Proto-Role

volitional involvement in the event or state


causing an event or change of state in another participant


Properties of the Patient Proto-Role

undergoes change of state

increment theme

causally affected by another participant

stationary relative to movement of another participant

We can see that this approach allows variation amongst AGENTS: some will be more typical and involve a greater number of characteristic entailments; other will be more marginal.

One fact we have to account for is that there is a conventional linkage between the participant roles and the grammatical relations, such that in this case the EXPERIENCER will be subject and the PERCEPT, direct object.

The relations between subject position and theta-role in the sentences below:

Captain Nemo sank the ship with a torpedo.

The torpedo sank the ship.

The ship sank.

Captain Nemo has the Proto-gent properties of volition, sentience, causation and movement and is thus linked to subject position, as predicted by the selection principles. In the torpedo has the Proto-Agent properties of causation and movement, and thus in the absence of an entity with stronger cluster of such properties, becomes subject. Finally in the ship has just property of movement, but in this sentence that is enough for it to become the subject.

Dowty's version of subject hierarchy is below

Agent> {Instrument/Experiencer}>Patient> {Source/Goal}

Theta-roles as explanatory devices in accounting for linkage between semantic and syntactic argument structure. Second justification for using thematic roles is to help characterize semantic verbal classes.

Theta-role grids have been used to describe argument changing processes like passive, or argument structure alternations like those below, where in each case the example sentences are in a, the link between theta-grids and syntactic arguments is given in b, and some example verbs in C:

He banged the broom-handle on the ceiling.

He banged the ceiling with the broom-handle.

She tapped the can against the window.

She tapped the window with the can.



c. bang, bash, beat, hit, knock, pound, rap, tap, whack

The claim that in some languages they play role in the morphology of verbal agreement. Mithun gives examples of the pronominal verbal prefixes in Lakhota (Siouan; USA, Canada) . In the transitive verbs in a below we see a prefix wa which marks an AGENT argument and in a prefix ma, which marks a PATIENT:

awa?u 'I brought it.'

waktekte 'I'll kill him.'

ama?u 'He brought me.'

maktekte 'He'll kill me.

The grammatical category of voice affords speakers some flexibility in viewing thematic roles. Many languages allow n opposition between active voice and passive voice.

Ex. Bas groomed the horses.

The horses were groomed by Bas.

There are other lexical and syntactic strategies which alters perspective in this way.

Eg. The house stood in front of the cliff.

The cliff stood behind the house.

What Joan bought was a Ferrari.(pseudo-clift)

It was Joan who bought the Ferrari(clift)

We can show whichever argument occupies object position can be passivised, while the argument in the prepositional phrase cannot.

Eg. Paint was sprayed on the car. The car was sprayed paint on.