Volitional patients

Richard Madsen norrv at HUM.AU.DK
Thu Mar 23 10:43:11 UTC 2006

ashild.nass at ILN.UIO.NO den torsdag 23. marts 2006 kl. 09:00 +0100 skrev:
>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?

I'd say beneficiary can be volitional patient, but doesn't have to be. In
"Peter scrathed Tom's back (because it was itching)" Tom is both patient
and beneficiary. But in "Peter repaired Tom's glasses" Tom is only
beneficiary, the patient is his glasses.

> 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 

I think a more precise criterion for being beneficiary would be that one
accepts the action done and its outcome. What I have in mind is that the
putative beneficiary doesn't have to want the action explicitly and in
advance (i.e. before the action for him or her is started), he or she may
not even be aware of being in need for something. But he or she has to
accept the action and its outcome as something that is beneficial for him
or her.
>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.


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