Thematic roles

It is often convenient to identify arguments of (Fregean) predicates in terms of the following thematic roles, which are illustrated below. Agents are arguments that bring about a state of affairs. The line between agents, on the one hand, and causes or instruments, on the other, can be fuzzy, but agents are (or are perceived to be) conscious or sentient, in a way that causes or instruments aren't. Some examples are given in (1)-(3).

(1) a. Agent:   The lions devoured the wildebeest.
b.   The boys caught some fish.
c.   My mother wrote me a letter.
(2) a. Cause:   Hurricane-force winds demolished much of the town.
b.   An epidemic killed off all of the tomatoes.
c.   An economic downturn put thousands of workers out of work.
(3) a. Instrument:   This key opens the door to the main office.
b.   They must have used indelible ink.

Experiencers are arguments that undergo a sensory, cognitive, or emotional experience.

(4) a. Experiencer:   The rhesus monkey had never seen snow before.
b.   Many people fear snakes.
c.   Their resourcefulness struck her as admirable.

Recipients are arguments that receive something (whether good or bad) in a situation.

(5) a. Recipient:   They gave the workers a raise.
b.   I paid my landlord the rent.
c.   He spared me his usual sob story.

Locations are simply places.

(6) a. Location:   We always eat breakfast in the kitchen.
b.   The cork has been bobbing under the bridge for an hour.

Paths connect locations.

(7) a. Path:   Lucky raced down the driveway.
b.   The boat passed under the bridge so quickly I missed seeing it.
c.   We drove the scenic route.

When locations serve as endpoints of paths, we generally refer to them as goals.

(8) a. Goal:   We traveled to Paris quite a bit in those days.
b.   Lucky raced to the edge of the woods.
c.     I'd like to send this package to France.

Recipients can also serve as the endpoint of paths, and the distinction between goals and recipients can be difficult. (Chapter 7 addresses the issue in detail.)

(9)       I'd like to send this package to my cousin.
Locations and paths can be spatial or temporal.

(10) a. Point in time:   Let's start the meeting at two.
b. Goal in time:   The meeting will last until two.

Measure or amount arguments express extensions along some dimension (length, duration, cost, and so on).

(11) a. Measure:   They rowed for three days.
b.   The book costs ten dollars.

Finally, the thematic role of theme is something of a catch-all. According to one definition, 'theme' refers to an argument undergoing motion of some sort, including motion in a metaphorical sense, such as a change of state. As is usual in the syntactic literature, we will also use the term for arguments that are most 'affected' in a situation or for the content of an experience.

(12) a. Theme:   The lions devoured the wildebeest.
b.   This key opens the front door.
c.   Hurricane-force winds demolished much of the town.
d.   They gave the workers a raise.
e.   I'd like to send this package to France.
f.   Many people fear snakes.