Final call for papers: role complexes (Z ürich, 4.-5.4.2011)

"Seppo Kittilä" sepkit at
Tue Nov 2 06:57:09 UTC 2010

(apologies for multiple postings)

Final call for papers

Role complexes: (new) approaches to defining semantic roles

Since one of the important functions of many communicative acts is to make clear ‘who is doing what to whom’ when portraying a particular state of affairs, it is hardly surprising that semantic roles, thematic roles or thematic relations constitute the topic of countless studies in linguistics and are also always discussed, either explicitly or implicitly, in reference grammars. Numerous studies have dealt with agents and patients within and across languages since the 1970s, and there are several comparatively recent studies that address other roles as well (e.g., Stolz et al 2006 for comitatives, Næss 2007 for transitivity in general, Kittilä 2008 for recipients and goals, Zúñiga & Kittilä 2010 for benefactives among numerous others).

Among the many interesting characteristics of accounts of semantic roles, it is noteworthy that semantic relationships between predicates and their arguments are treated in different ways. On the one hand, the explicit formal distinction made in natural languages between agents and patients is typically reflected in their analytical status: the volitionally acting instigator of an event (agent) and the inactive, thoroughly affected target of the event (patient) are invariably regarded as two separate roles. On the other hand, different kinds of beneficiaries (e.g., the first person in John tossed me a salad and John mowed the lawn instead of me) are usually considered instances of one and the same role despite their different meanings. Similarly, different subtypes of agents have tended to be treated as different roles while different kinds of experiencers have not.
Against this background, the goal of this workshop is to explore approaches to the notion of semantic role in terms of ROLE COMPLEXES, i.e., of clusters of several related sub-roles that might be distinguished by some constructions in certain languages but are otherwise subsumed under a general umbrella notion. For example, different instances of goals differ according to the exact nature of motion (e.g., he threw the ball to the box / behind the box / on the box). The basic definition of the goal role remains unchanged: we are dealing with an endpoint of motion in all cases. Nevertheless, the potential differences between the roles are thus determined by features not typically considered in studies of semantic roles; features usually used for distinguishing between semantic roles, such as instigation, volitionality and affectedness (cf. e.g.. Næss 2007), can explain neither the semantic nor the formal differences between these three subtypes of goals, or the different codin
g of goals and beneficiaries.

We welcome all abstracts dealing with role complexes within and across languages. Possible topics for papers include (but, as always, are not restricted to) the following:

- When should we speak of distinct roles, and when are two slightly different (potentially differently coded) roles rather manifestations of one basic role? Are, e.g., inanimate goals and animate goals manifestations of a single role or should they rather be treated separately?
- What consequences does role synonymy have for our understanding of semantic roles? What are the features that any adequate theory of semantic roles should consider, what is the ‘correct’ number of semantic roles, etc.?
- How should we treat partial formal mismatches between roles?
- How do we deal with semantically/pragmatically determined differences in the coding of roles (e.g., marking conditioned by definiteness, referentiality, specificity, topicality, focality)?
- Corpus-based studies of role synonymy: What determines the use of different (yet semantically similar) manifestations of a role in actual language use?
- How do we best treat the diachronic development of multifunctional coding devices (syncretisms, polysemies, homonymies, etc.)?
- Formal manifestation of semantic role synonymy: case marking, verbal marking, lexical differences, etc.
- Role synonymy of core and peripheral roles: Are there any differences, is synonymy more common for one of these? 

Organizers of the workshop

Fernando Zúñiga (Zurich) and Seppo Kittilä (Helsinki)


University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland


April 4-5, 2011

Abstract submission

Please send your (maximally) 500-word abstract (excluding data and references) to both fernando.zuniga at and kittila at no later than November 14, 2010. The letters of acceptance will be sent by December 12, 2010. Abstracts must be anonymous, but the body of the e-mail should include the following information:

Name of the author(s)
Title of the paper

In case you have any questions about the workshop, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are looking forward to welcoming you all to Zurich.

Fernando and Seppo

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