Talk:Thematic role

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Would a discussion of how ergative and accusative languages emphasize different thematic roles be appropriate in this article? In particular, I'm thinking of the fact that ergative languages tend to emphasize the patient of a verb (by always marking it identically), whereas accusative languages seem to emphasize the agent of a verb. By comparing and contrasting how ergative verbs are handled in these languages, it is possible to illustrate that sometimes a single NP can simultaneously be agent and patient of the verb. For example, using the Basque language ergative marker -ak (or appropriate pronomials), one gets:

English I eat. I eat fish. Fish eat me. Fish eat.
English with
Basque grammar
I-ak eat.
Me eat.
I fish-ak eat. Fish I-ak eat.
Fish me eat.
Fish-ak eat.
Agent of verb:
Patient of verb:

This illustration begs the question of whether, Subject/Object/Verb typology is appropriate for ergative languages, or whether both types of languages might be better categorized by the sequences of the Agent and Patient relative to the verb. Thus, English would be a Agent-Verb-Patient language, with Agent prominence; Basque would be a Patient-Agent-Verb language, with Patient prominence.

The Subject/Object/Verb typology is perfectly apropriate to describe syntax. The theta roles - or thematic roles - are appropriate for describing semantics or meaning. Which categorisation is better depends entirely on one's purpose. A joint description of both the semantics and the syntax of an utterance would use both typologies.yoyo 12:34, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

Thematic role and theta role[edit]

Do we really need two separate articles - thematic role and theta role? Boraczek 21:42, 5 Dec 2004 (UTC)

No, they are about the same topic. Hirzel 10:18, 25 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Thematic role is a semantic idea, Theta role is syntactic. --April Arcus 22:18, 10 November 2005 (UTC)
Theta role is explicitly described in its article Theta role as a semantic role! Agreed that both articles have similar referents. The thematic role article includes several roles that are glossed over in the theta role article. Apparently theta role is the commoner term in linguistics circles, though I feel that thematic role suggests its meaning better. yoyo 12:34, 25 February 2006 (UTC)
Theta roles or equivalently θ-roles are the terms used for thematic roles in the context of Government and Binding Theory, but essentially they are the same thing. I say the articles should be merged, but perhaps some point should be made about how GB theory emphasizes the idea of biuniqueness in thematic roles, which has applications for syntax. Thematic roles or theta roles have to do with both syntax and semantics, since they help to correlate syntactic behavior (like the agent tending to the the subject) with semantic properties of noun phrases (like agents tending to have volition and perception). According to Dowty (1991) thematic roles are part of the syntax-semantics interface. haplo 21:06, 8 May 2006 (UTC)
Theta role is the syntactic reflection of the semantic concept of thematic role and as such these articles definitely should be merged. Theta role is the more common term, so that's the place to merge with. — mark 08:24, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

In case of a merge, I really would suggest to keep things as clear as possible: the theta role undoubtly is a syntactic concept. The theme, however, is quite different from that if you take the next step within linguistic hierarchy, which is semantics. And if one goes even one step further into Functional Grammar (which is mostly Pragmatics) and its notion of the stratum of lexicogrammar, the common aspects of "theta role" (which is unknown to Functional Grammar) and "theme" (which is a topic of utmost importance for FG) vanish almost into nonexistence. Although I can understand the desire to merge both articles, I do not think it would be scientifically appropriate. Limbonic 20:59, 27 May 2006 (UTC)

I think everyone here is not strongly opposed to merging, and at most have reservations. My opinion is that the Thematic role page should be merged into the Theta role page. These two pages currently contain strikingly redundant information, with no explaination of the difference--having two pages is confusing! This page mostly seems to be an extention of the list of roles in Theta role#Major theta roles, which could easily be merged into that section. If there is a subtle difference between theta roles and thematic roles, it needs to be explained in terms that can be understood by non-experts, perhaps in a short "Theta roles vs. Thematic roles" section. I don't think that the difference between thematic role and theta role is enough to ever generate a unique Thematic role page larger than a stub (after redundant information is removed of course). I would love to help merge these pages, but I'm afraid to do so as I am not an expert here!--gwc 22:06, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree that the somewhat confusing distinction is not made clear enough in either article, but here is an explanation from Andrew Carnie that might help somebody out who is brave enough to give it a try: "There is not a one-to-one relationship between thematic relations and arguments. However, linguists have a special construct called a 'theta role,' that does map one-to-one with arguments. Theta roles are bundles of thematic relations that cluster on one argument. In [an example he posited earlier], 'Jason' gets two thematic relations (agent and source), but only one theta role (the one that contains the agent and source thematic relations). Somewhat confusingly, syntacticians often refer to particular theta roles by the most prominent thematic relation that they contain. So you might hear a syntactician refer to the 'agent theta role' of 'Jason.' Strictly speaking, this is incorrect: Agent refers to a thematic relation, whereas the theta role is a bundle of thematic relations." 11:31, 19 January 2007 (UTC) Edris Qarghah


According to the article on Theta role "the experiencer (S) is someone or a thing who experiences some state. Thus, in Jack fell asleep, Jack is the experiencer. This is because Jack is not an agent, in that he did not 'fall himself asleep'". This suggests that the experiencer works as a subject (at least in English). According to this article however the experiencer is someone who "receives sensory or emotional input (eg. The smell of lillies filled Jennifer's nostrils)". This definition does not suggest that the experiencer is a subject. Is it possible that the writer has over-interpritted the word experiencer? The definition in the Theta role article makes more sense. I'm new to this so I don't want to change anything to hastily. Starylon 18:10, 6 April 2006 (UTC)

Experiencer as a thematic relation does not correlate directly to a subject or object position. It is, rather, a semantic question of the association of an argument with a predicate. In the case of experiencer, the argument has to feel or perceive what is predicated, it's position in the sentence is irrelevant. Here are a few examples of this from [Andrew Carnie]: "Keziah likes cookies." "Becki saw the eclipse." "Syntax frightens Jim." Note that in the last example Syntax, as a non-volitional agent, is the active inducer of the experience of fright on Jim. The verb "frighten" takes two arguments, one, in an object position, has the dominant thematic relation of experiencer. 11:50, 19 January 2007 (UTC) Edris Qarghah

Incroguent definition/usage.[edit]

i do not think i would say that a role IS a relationship. a role IS PART OF a relationship, but it is not itself the relationship. for example, "Experiencer" is a role, but "Experienced/Experiences/Will Experience" is a relationship.

if you agree, then you should also agree that the Thematic Role shouldn't be defined as "a relationship", as it is in the first sentence, since Experiencer is an example of a Thematic Role, & Experiencer isn't a relationship.

if you disagree, then you should be willing to begin a campaign to rename "Thematic Roles" to "Thematic Relationships".

the lesson is, while roles are related to relationships, they are different.

Factotum 09:54, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

I agree that there is a distinction between role and relation, though I fear that your evaluation of it misses the mark a bit. "Thematic Roles" should be renamed "Thematic Relations." Experiencer is a descriptor of the semantic relationship between the argument and the predicate, namely, an experiencer is an argument that experiences the action depicted in the predicate. Role implies a position with respect to a specific verb and subsequently a particular type of syntactic structure. This is part of the distinction between thematic relations and theta roles that really needs to be elucidated. 12:02, 19 January 2007 (UTC) Edris Qarghah