Volitional patients

Ashild Nass ashild.nass at ILN.UIO.NO
Thu Mar 23 08:00:19 UTC 2006

Dear typologists,

Richard Madsen's comment asking whether the dative-marked object in my 
Icelandic examples shouldn't rather be considered a beneficiary got me 
thinking. Volitional patients are in fact semantically very close to 
other types of participants such as recipients or beneficiaries. The 
latter are also volitional or at least sentient - you have to be 
sentient in order to be plausibly said to benefit from something - and 
they receive an effect of the action. Also, the idea of volitionally 
submitting to having something done to you strongly suggests a 
beneficial effect (or, alternatively, masochism, a property which I 
don't think anyone has ever suggested we should expect to find encoded 
in language). So maybe one could say that the default interpretation of 
a volitional patient is as a beneficiary. Conversely, isn't a 
beneficiary to a certain extent a kind of volitional patient? Can you be 
said to benefit from something which you don't really want? It may be 
possible, but certainly not the prototypical interpretation of a 

What I'm saying is, maybe the reason why a distinct formal encoding of 
volitional patients appears to be rare, or at least rarely described as 
such, is either or both of these: 1) they're semantically so close to 
other, more generally familiar types such as beneficiaries that 
linguists have described them in the latter terms; 2) because of the 
same semantic similarity, *languages* treat these types in the same way.

Thanks to Richard, and to everyone else who replied.



Åshild Næss
Postdoctoral researcher
Dept. of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies
University of Oslo
P.O. Box 1102 Blindern
0317 Oslo, Norway

Phone: (+47) 22 84 40 06

Office: HW327

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