Volitional patients

Jóhanna Barðdal johanna.barddal at NOR.UIB.NO
Thu Mar 23 11:21:42 UTC 2006

This last discussion shows that notions of themtic/semantic roles are highly 
problematic, and as I argued both in my dissertation on case in Icelandic (which 
Ashild cited) and in a 2004 paper on the semantics of the "oblique" subject 
construction in Icelandic, German and Faroese, they should be dispensed with 
from linguistic theory.


Barðdal, Jóhanna. 2001. Case in Icelandic – A Synchronic, Diachronic and 
Comparative Approach. Lundastudier i Nordisk språkvetenskap A 57. Lund: 
Department of Scandinavian Languages. 

Barðdal, Jóhanna. 2004. The Semantics of the Impersonal Construction in 
Icelandic, German and Faroese: Beyond Thematic Roles. In Focus on Germanic 
Typology [Studia Typologica 6], 105–37. Ed. Werner Abraham. Berlin: Akademie 


> 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 
> >beneficiary.
> 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.
> >
> >Regards,
> Richard
> >
> >

Jóhanna Barðdal
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Coordinator of the Ph.D. Research School in Linguistics and Philology
Department of Linguistics and Comparative Literature, Linguistics Division
University of Bergen
Sydnesplassen 7			
NO-5007 Bergen
johanna.barddal at uib.no

Phone +47-55582438 (work)
Phone +47-55201117 (home)
Fax   +47-55589354 (work)


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