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4 Semantic Role

4 Semantic Role

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Published by Nesia Riyana Cot

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Published by: Nesia Riyana Cot on Jun 20, 2012
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4.3 Some changes in valencyWe need to take account not only of how many arguments a verb may have but also how manyit must have. Instead of the full sentence Agnes wrote her mother a letter, for example, it ispossible to omit her mother or a letter or both of them and say just Agnes wrote a letter, orAgnes wrote (to) her mother or Agnes wrote. The sentence is less informative when it hasfewer arguments, but it is still a legitimate sentence and the meaning of write does not change.Some predicates can be used in a sentence that has two arguments and in another sentencethat has only one argument, as with Tom heirs. Is there a common term (not the legalismlegator) which expresses his relation to them through the bequest? The lexemes widow(er) andorphan are commonly used as status predicates (Poor Audrey is an orphan). Are they used as
relational predicates (Audrey is the orphan of …)?
Broke the window and the window broke.We now look at four different groups of two-argument verbs.66 The car needs a new battery.67a We ate lunch (in the kitchen).67b We ate (in the kitchen).68a Maureen bathed the baby (in the tub).68b Maureen bathed (in the tub).69a I rolled the ball (down the street).69b The ball rolled (down the street).Predicates like need (66) always have two arguments. While one might possibly think of a
context in which an utterance “The car needs” is acceptable, such an occurrence is rare. Certain
verbs, need, use, want and others must have two arguments. The verb eat is different.Comparing 67a and 67b, we see that 67a contains more specific information than 67b, but themeaning of ate is the same. The predicate eat is inherently two-argument because the action itrefers to is two-argument; if you eat, you eat something. But in English we can use thepredicate eat without mentioning what is eaten. Consider sentences 68a and 68b: 68b does notsimply have less information than 68a; it conveys the information that Maureen bathed herself.Certain predicates, like bathe, are reflexive, self-directed, if they occur without an object.Sentence 68a has two obvious arguments: Maureen, the actor, and the baby, the affected. Insentence 68b the argument Maureen could be said to have two roles, actor and affected, sinceit is Maureen who bathes and Maureen who gets bathed. However, such predicates as choke,drown and suffocate are problematic. Consider, for example:70a Harvey drowned his mother-in-law.70b Harvey drowned.
In 70a Harvey names the agent and his mother-in-law clearly tells who was affected by theaction of this predicate. In 70b Harvey is certainly the affected. Is Harvey also the agent? Thatwould depend on whether Harvey committed suicide by drowning or drowned accidentally.Whichever is the case, the information is not in the sentence.PRACTICE 4.4Note that with some other predicates we have to use a reflexive pronoun to indicate a reflexivemeaning: I hurt myself, They introduced themselves. It is possible to say Maureen bathedherself, but this sentence conveys no information different from the shorter Maureen. bathed.In the languages closest to English the use of a reflexive pronoun is more usual. The table onpage 82 gives French and German equivalents of some English verbs like bathe and drown.Reflexive pronouns
se in French, sich in German as equivalents of English himself, herself,themselves
are more usual in those languages than himself/herself; etc. in English.Sentences 69a and 69b are analogous to Tom broke the window and The window broke. Wemight say that the predicate roll has two different, though related, meanings in the twosentences. First we have a sentence with the structure Agent-Action-Affected; then there is asentence Affected-
Action. What does roll ‘really’ mean? Something that people do to round
objects such as balls and hoops and barrels? Or an action that round objects perform? If we
take 69a as a sentence that shows the ‘real’ meaning of roll
something that a person does
then 69b is similar to the passive version of 69a: The ball was rolled (by me). Or suppose,instead, we say th
at 69b illustrates the ‘true’ meaning of roll, an action that balls and other
round objects perform. Then the predicate in 69a has a causative meaning: I caused the ball toroll, made the ball roll. The following verbs are like bathe and drown. Each one can occur with asubject and object, expressing, respectively, agent and affected. And each verb can occur withonly a subject, which may express agent and affected, as in the case of Maureen bathed, or, asin Harvey drowned, the subject tells who is affected but is not clear about agency. Which of thefollowing are like bathe and which are like drown?change scratch suffocatechoke shave undressdress show off wake (up)fail stand (up) washAt any rate, the languages which are closest to English
Germanic, Romance and Slavic
typically use reflexive constructions in the equivalent of The ball rolls, The window breaks andthe like.PRACTICE 4.5

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