Theta Roles Continued


Contents: Wormhole Revisited | Adjectival Theta Roles | Nominal Theta Roles | Prepositional Theta Roles

More on Theta Roles

In our first look at the wormhole, not all theta roles were covered because of the limited range of the worm in the wormhole. Let us add the object food to the wormhole. Let's put food at each end of the wormhole. The worm must eat to stay alive. He now has a purpose for moving in the wormhole: to obtain nourishment in order to stay alive. The worm is own benefactor when it eats, although if a verb implies a self-benefactor, the self-benefactor is rarely marked as an overt theta-role. When the food is gone, the worm comes in contact with the end, in which case he reverses his direction as before. If the worm doesn't eat, he will die. Then he will decompose. Additionally, let's add "five inches" as the length of the wormhole. The worm moves five inches through the wormhole from one end to the other--five inches is a measure theta role.

The expanded Wormhole.



Adding a mouth has certainly increased the number of theta roles. And it has increased the number of predicates. We have chosen to ignore whatever other organs the worm might need to process his food. We went as far as converting FOOD into FUEL, which he needs to move, stay alive, and so forth. This is to illustrate the role constructum.

Adjectival Theta Roles:

The argument of most adjectives is a theme:

(2)   Tom is hot (to the touch).
(3)   The book is red.
(4)   Our house is large.
(5)   Some streets are wide.
(6)   That road is long.
(7)   Lead is heavy and poisonous <-- Lead is heavy and lead is poisonous.

The argument of some adjectives is an experiencer:

(8)   Tom is hot (his experience).
(9)   Mary Ann is happy.
(10)   Our neighbors are very angry.
(11)   Bill's dog is smart.
(12)   Holly was rather depressed.

Some adjectives take two arguments

(13)   Ross is proud of his son. (experiencer and theme):
(14)   Nellie is angry at her neighbors. (experiencer and goal):
(15)   The chick is anxious to eat. (experiencer and proposition).
(Note some consider proposition a theta role and others do not.)

The argument of some nouns is a theme as in container nouns:

(16)   a cup of tea.
(17)   a bottle of hooch
(18)   a box of matches
(19)   a sack of potatoes
(20)   a carton of cancer sticks.

Nouns of the ruler-controller class assign themes:

(21)   the King of Siam
(22)   the mayor of Katmandu
(23)   the chairman of the board
(24)   the ruler of the principality
(25)   a vice-president of the company.

Nouns of the whole/part class assign one theta role:

(26)  the top of the desk
(27)  one side of the bed
(28)  the underside of Bill's tongue.

Nouns of the relation class assign two theta roles:

(29)  Jane is the mother of Alice.
(30)  Jack is the son of Bob.
(31)  My orange cat is the brother of my gray and orange cat.

The partial argument structure of (16) is the following:


Locative Prepositions assign two theta roles. The external argument is a theme, and the internal argument has various theta-roles depending on the meaning of the preposition. Consider the following sentences:

(33)   The lamp is on the table.
(34)   John found a lamp on his table.

In (26) the verb be is a copular verb. Its function is discussed in Predicate Adjectives. It has no semantic function. As such it cannot assign a theta role. The lamp is a theme which is assigned by the preposition on.. The preposition also assigns the theta role location to the table. The function can be seen more easily in (27). It fits into a context such as:

(35)   John walked into his room and found a lamp on his table.

John wasn't looking for the lamp. It was just there. What he found or came across is a lamp (standing) on his table. If he were looking for the lamp, the definite article would have to be used:

(36)   John found the lamp in his room.

The lamp is a theme (what he's looking for) and in his room is the location where he found it. The logical structure for (26) is the following:


Tense cannot be copied onto the preposition on since it can only be copied on to a verb. Since TENSE needs a host, the auxiliary dummy verb be is inserted to function as a host for TENSE. Go to 322 lowering.

Contents: Wormhole Revisited | Adjectival Theta Roles | Nominal Theta Roles | Prepositional Theta Roles

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