# Argument structure and theta roles

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1 Argument structure and theta roles Introduction to Syntax, EGG Summer School 2017 András Bárány 26 July 2017

2 Overview Where we left off Arguments and theta roles Some consequences of theta theory Conclusions 2/27

3 where we left off Where we left off 3/27

4 where we left off Merge builds structure We saw yesterday that Merge builds syntactic structure (1) VP V kisses DP Jiři But Merge as we know it is too general: it overgenerates (2) a. *Mary snores Jiři. b. *Mary said. c. Mary kisses Jiři. (cf. Koeneman & Zeijlstra 2017: 55)? What causes this? 4/27

5 where we left off Constraining Merge We want Merge to be able to combine Vs and DPs or NPs, so how do we restrict it? Clearly, there is something about the verbs involved kiss is a? snore is a? say is a? 5/27

6 where we left off Constraining Merge We want Merge to be able to combine Vs and DPs or NPs, so how do we restrict it? Clearly, there is something about the verbs involved kiss is a? snore is a? say is a? These verbs have certain selectional requirements They need a fixed number of arguments (with specific features) Theta (θ) theory is one way of explaining this today s slides are based on Koeneman & Zeijlstra (2017: 3), Adger (2003: 3) 5/27

7 where we left off Verbs and their arguments snore is an intransitive verb It takes one (and just one) argument kiss is a (mono-)transitive verb It takes two arguments give is a ditransitive verb It takes three arguments (two objects)? What kinds of arguments do these verbs take? Syntax distinguishes types of verbs by how many arguments and what kinds of arguments they take. In other words, verbs select for certain arguments. 6/27

8 arguments and theta roles Arguments and theta roles 7/27

9 arguments and theta roles Arguments and adverbials How do we model these restrictions? First, what is an argument? (3) a. Mary gave Jiři a kiss. b. *Mary gave Jiři a kiss Milena. c. Mary gave Jiři a kiss yesterday. (4) a. Mary said she liked Jiři. b. Yesterday Mary said she liked Jiři. c. * Yesterday Mary said Ø. 8/27

10 arguments and theta roles Arguments and adverbials How do we model these restrictions? First, what is an argument? (3) a. Mary gave Jiři a kiss. b. *Mary gave Jiři a kiss Milena. c. Mary gave Jiři a kiss yesterday. (4) a. Mary said she liked Jiři. b. Yesterday Mary said she liked Jiři. c. * Yesterday Mary said Ø. We cannot add another DP to (3a). We can add a phrase like yesterday (3a). We cannot leave out the object in (4). 8/27

11 arguments and theta roles Arguments and adverbials II give and say have different requirements give takes two DPs as its objects say takes a CP (a complementiser phrase) as its object adverbials like yesterday can be added or removed freely adverbials are not selected for, but arguments are? What about Mary gave? 9/27

12 arguments and theta roles Theta roles Based on the number of its arguments, a verb assigns theta roles to them give expresses a relation between 1. someone who gives, 2. something being given, 3. someone receiving something kiss expresses a relation between 1. someone who kisses, 2. someone (or something!) being kissed To understand these verbs, we need these roles to be assigned and expressed Every argument must carry one theta role. Every theta role must be assigned to one argument. This is the theta-criterion 10/27

13 arguments and theta roles The theta criterion The theta criterion explains the ungrammaticality of too many/too few arguments? What about the following examples, however? (5) a. Anna is eating. b. Anna is eating a sandwich. (6) a. Jiři gave a book. b. Jiři gave Anna a book. (7) a. *Milena snored a sandwich. b. Milena snored yesterday. 11/27

14 arguments and theta roles The theta criterion The theta criterion explains the ungrammaticality of too many/too few arguments? What about the following examples, however? (5) a. Anna is eating. b. Anna is eating a sandwich. (6) a. Jiři gave a book. b. Jiři gave Anna a book. (7) a. *Milena snored a sandwich. b. Milena snored yesterday. Some differences boil down to lexical semantics: *Anna is saying. 11/27

15 arguments and theta roles Types of theta roles So what is actually assigned? Theta roles come in different flavours 12/27

16 arguments and theta roles Types of theta roles So what is actually assigned? Theta roles come in different flavours AGENT: an entity (willfully) doing something PATIENT/THEME: an (animate) entity undergoing something RECIPIENT/GOAL: an (animate) entity receiving something (8) The detective interrogates the suspect / the ball. (9) Mary loves the children / classical music. (10) a. Milena gave Jiři the book. b. Milena gave the book to the library. 12/27

17 arguments and theta roles Types of theta roles So what is actually assigned? Theta roles come in different flavours AGENT: an entity (willfully) doing something PATIENT/THEME: an (animate) entity undergoing something RECIPIENT/GOAL: an (animate) entity receiving something (8) The detective interrogates the suspect / the ball. (9) Mary loves the children / classical music. (10) a. Milena gave Jiři the book. b. Milena gave the book to the library. 12/27

18 arguments and theta roles Types of theta roles So what is actually assigned? Theta roles come in different flavours AGENT: an entity (willfully) doing something PATIENT/THEME: an (animate) entity undergoing something RECIPIENT/GOAL: an (animate) entity receiving something (8) The detective interrogates the suspect / the ball. (9) Mary loves the children / classical music. (10) a. Milena gave Jiři the book. b. Milena gave the book to the library. 12/27

19 arguments and theta roles Other types of verbs Verbs do not just differ in the number of theta roles they assign subjects are often AGENTS (direct) objects are often PATIENTS/THEMES but this is not always the case! (11) a. Jiři fell. b. The glass broke. c. The cat died. d. Milena is baking. e. The government armed the people.? How can we test for this? 13/27

20 arguments and theta roles Regularities in theta roles When a verb takes a single argument, i.e. it is intransitive, it can take an AGENT or a PATIENT/THEME When a verb takes two arguments, i.e. it is (mono)transitive, it can take an AGENT subject and a PATIENT/THEME object an AGENT subject and a RECIPIENT object a RECIPIENT subject and a THEME object an EXPERIENCER subject and a THEME object But certain mappings of theta roles onto arguments are ruled out! no verb assigns PATIENT to the subject and AGENT to the object 14/27

21 arguments and theta roles The theta hierarchy This motivates a first distinction on the theta hierarchy (12) AGENT > PATIENT/THEME Koeneman & Zeijlstra (2017) argue for extending the hierarchy using (13) (13) a. Jiři AGENT b. *Jiři AGENT gave Anna RECIPIENT gave a book THEME a book. THEME Anna. RECIPIENT 15/27

22 arguments and theta roles The theta hierarchy This motivates a first distinction on the theta hierarchy (12) AGENT > RECIPIENT > PATIENT/THEME Koeneman & Zeijlstra (2017) argue for extending the hierarchy using (13) (13) a. Jiři AGENT b. *Jiři AGENT gave Anna RECIPIENT gave a book THEME a book. THEME Anna. RECIPIENT 15/27

23 arguments and theta roles The theta hierarchy This motivates a first distinction on the theta hierarchy (12) AGENT > RECIPIENT > PATIENT/THEME > GOAL Koeneman & Zeijlstra (2017) argue for extending the hierarchy using (13) (13) a. Jiři AGENT b. *Jiři AGENT gave Anna RECIPIENT gave a book THEME a book. THEME Anna. RECIPIENT 15/27

24 arguments and theta roles The theta hierarchy This motivates a first distinction on the theta hierarchy (12) AGENT > RECIPIENT > PATIENT/THEME > GOAL Koeneman & Zeijlstra (2017) argue for extending the hierarchy using (13) (13) a. Jiři AGENT b. *Jiři AGENT gave Anna RECIPIENT gave a book THEME a book. THEME Anna. RECIPIENT (13) suggests that there are verbs which take a RECIPIENT and a THEME argument? Can you think of such verbs? 15/27

25 arguments and theta roles Interim summary Verbs select for a certain number of arguments and certain types of arguments: theta roles theta roles are mapped onto arguments in certain ways subjects are often AGENTS, objects are often PATIENTS, etc. looking at these mappings motivates the theta hierarchy (there is some other evidence for it, too) 16/27

26 some consequences of theta theory Some consequences of theta theory 17/27

27 some consequences of theta theory The number of arguments and grammatical functions Any verb, independently of the number of its arguments, seems to have a subject If a verb takes a single argument, it is always a subject. (14) a. Mary kisses John. b. *Kisses John. c. John is kissed. It is then tempting to make a stronger generalisation about subjects (15) Every sentence has a subject. (Koeneman & Zeijlstra 2017: 68)? What about Swim! or It is raining? 18/27

28 some consequences of theta theory Accusative, ergative, unaccusative, and unergative verbs Some more evidence for a theta hierarchy comes from different types of verbs ergative verbs can be transitive and intransitive (see (16)) accusative verbs can also be transitive or intransitive (see (17)) The two types differ in the theta role they assign when intransitive: (16) a. The butter is melting. (17) a. Mary is eating. 19/27

29 some consequences of theta theory Accusative, ergative, unaccusative, and unergative verbs Some more evidence for a theta hierarchy comes from different types of verbs ergative verbs can be transitive and intransitive (see (16)) accusative verbs can also be transitive or intransitive (see (17)) The two types differ in the theta role they assign when intransitive: (16) a. The butter is melting. b. Mary is melting the butter. (17) a. Mary is eating. 19/27

30 some consequences of theta theory Accusative, ergative, unaccusative, and unergative verbs Some more evidence for a theta hierarchy comes from different types of verbs ergative verbs can be transitive and intransitive (see (16)) accusative verbs can also be transitive or intransitive (see (17)) The two types differ in the theta role they assign when intransitive: (16) a. The butter is melting. PATIENT b. Mary is melting the butter. AGENT, PATIENT (17) a. Mary is eating. 19/27

31 some consequences of theta theory Accusative, ergative, unaccusative, and unergative verbs Some more evidence for a theta hierarchy comes from different types of verbs ergative verbs can be transitive and intransitive (see (16)) accusative verbs can also be transitive or intransitive (see (17)) The two types differ in the theta role they assign when intransitive: (16) a. The butter is melting. b. Mary is melting the butter. (17) a. Mary is eating. b. Mary is eating a sandwich. 19/27

32 some consequences of theta theory Accusative, ergative, unaccusative, and unergative verbs Some more evidence for a theta hierarchy comes from different types of verbs ergative verbs can be transitive and intransitive (see (16)) accusative verbs can also be transitive or intransitive (see (17)) The two types differ in the theta role they assign when intransitive: (16) a. The butter is melting. b. Mary is melting the butter. (17) a. Mary is eating. AGENT b. Mary is eating a sandwich. AGENT, PATIENT 19/27

33 some consequences of theta theory Accusative, ergative, unaccusative, and unergative verbs Some more evidence for a theta hierarchy comes from different types of verbs ergative verbs can be transitive and intransitive (see (16)) accusative verbs can also be transitive or intransitive (see (17)) The two types differ in the theta role they assign when intransitive: (16) a. The butter is melting. PATIENT b. Mary is melting the butter. AGENT, PATIENT (17) a. Mary is eating. AGENT b. Mary is eating a sandwich. AGENT, PATIENT 19/27

34 some consequences of theta theory Theta roles as diagnostics for structure We have seen that verbs have particular requirements on what they combine with This helps us diagnose differences between structures which look identical (18) a. John hopes [ to win the race ]. b. John seems [ to win the race ]. Both (18a,b) consist of a main clause and an embedded clause Both sentences have John as their subjects? Are they identical structurally and semantically? 20/27

35 some consequences of theta theory Theta roles as diagnostics for structure II (19) a. John hopes [ to win the race ]. b. John seems [ to win the race ].? How many and which theta roles do hope and win assign? 21/27

36 some consequences of theta theory Theta roles as diagnostics for structure II (19) a. John hopes [ to win the race ]. b. John seems [ to win the race ].? How many and which theta roles do hope and win assign? hope: AGENT, THEME win: AGENT, THEME 21/27

37 some consequences of theta theory Theta roles as diagnostics for structure II (19) a. John hopes [ to win the race ]. b. John seems [ to win the race ].? How many and which theta roles do hope and win assign? hope: AGENT, THEME win: AGENT, THEME? How many and which theta roles do seem and win assign? 21/27

38 some consequences of theta theory Theta roles as diagnostics for structure II (19) a. John hopes [ to win the race ]. b. John seems [ to win the race ].? How many and which theta roles do hope and win assign? hope: AGENT, THEME win: AGENT, THEME? How many and which theta roles do seem and win assign? seem: THEME win: AGENT, THEME 21/27

39 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control The two examples in (19a,b) illustrate the difference between control and raising In control, a special type of pronoun, PRO gets the embedded AGENT role Both the main verb and the embedded verb assign AGENT theta roles AGENT THEME (20) John i hopes [ PRO i to win the race ]. 22/27

40 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control The two examples in (19a,b) illustrate the difference between control and raising In control, a special type of pronoun, PRO gets the embedded AGENT role Both the main verb and the embedded verb assign AGENT theta roles AGENT THEME (20) John i hopes [ PRO i to win the race ]. AGENT THEME 22/27

41 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control The two examples in (19a,b) illustrate the difference between control and raising In control, a special type of pronoun, PRO gets the embedded AGENT role Both the main verb and the embedded verb assign AGENT theta roles AGENT THEME (20) John i hopes [ PRO i to win the race ]. AGENT THEME In raising, the main clause subject is not assigned a theta role by seem (21) John i seems [ i to win the race ]. THEME 22/27

42 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control The two examples in (19a,b) illustrate the difference between control and raising In control, a special type of pronoun, PRO gets the embedded AGENT role Both the main verb and the embedded verb assign AGENT theta roles AGENT THEME (20) John i hopes [ PRO i to win the race ]. AGENT THEME In raising, the main clause subject is not assigned a theta role by seem AGENT THEME (21) John i seems [ John i to win the race ]. THEME 22/27

43 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control The two examples in (19a,b) illustrate the difference between control and raising In control, a special type of pronoun, PRO gets the embedded AGENT role Both the main verb and the embedded verb assign AGENT theta roles AGENT THEME (20) John i hopes [ PRO i to win the race ]. AGENT THEME In raising, the main clause subject is not assigned a theta role by seem AGENT (21) John i seems [ John i to win the race ]. THEME 22/27

44 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control II Can we confirm that seems does not assign a theta role to its subject? 23/27

45 some consequences of theta theory Raising vs. control II Can we confirm that seems does not assign a theta role to its subject? (22) a. It seems that John is winning the race. b. *It hopes that John is winning the race. The theta criterion assigns different structures to raising and control? Is this the only possibility?? What kind of element is PRO? How is it restricted? 23/27

46 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

47 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

48 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

49 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

50 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

51 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

52 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

53 some consequences of theta theory Merge, arguments and adjuncts We can combine what we ve said so far with what we learned about Merge. A lexical item s argument structure can be represented by features Such features are called c-selectional or subcategorisation features below, they are shown as ux where u means uninterpretable These features are checked off when they are matched (23) XP (24) VP (25) VP X[uF] Y[F] kiss [un] John [N] become [V, ua] fond [A, up] AP of [P, un] PP Lloyd [N] 24/27

54 conclusions Conclusions 25/27

55 conclusions Conclusions Lexical items have selectional requirements On verbs, these include specific theta roles Verbs can also select for semantic features like animacy s-selection Verbs, and other items also select for certain categories c-selection c-selection restricts Merge and builds grammatical structures Tomorrow we will look at case theory: what is case and what role does it play in syntax? 26/27

56 conclusions References I Adger, David Core syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Koeneman, Olaf & Hedde Zeijlstra Introducing syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 27/27

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