[Lingtyp] semantic role of participant that needs something

Juergen Bohnemeyer jb77 at buffalo.edu
Sat Jul 2 03:37:25 UTC 2022

Dear Christian — This is a very neat observation! 

English _X lacks Y_ can mean two things: 

(i) ‘X doesn’t have Y’
(ii) ‘X doesn’t have Y, and is negatively affected by its absence’

German _X fehlt Y_ means unambiguously (ii), whereas Spanish _X carece de Y_ is just as ambiguous as English _X lacks Y_ (L1 speakers please correct me!).

I think your observation/question targets the more complex, narrower reading (ii)? And so (ii) breaks down into two propositions:

A. ‘X doesn’t have Y’ (negation of possession)
B. ’Absence of Y has a negative effect on X’ (privation)

Your observation seems to be that Latin expresses A (negation of possession) and leaves B (privation) to conversational implicature, whereas Cabeca does exactly the inverse. Meanwhile, English and Spanish seem to have broadened predicates of privation to predicates of negative possession.

That’s pretty neat. It’s also just the kind of variation between what’s asserted and what’s left to implicatures that one would expect to find crosslinguistically. 

Best — Juergen

> On Jul 1, 2022, at 4:42 AM, Christian Lehmann <christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de> wrote:
> For a start, I am ready to agree that Fillmorean semantic roles are a bit outdated. Still, some of them, like recipient, experiencer or possessor, may be met in publications to this day. So this question is directed to those of you who think that under suitable conditions, it makes sense to speak of semantic roles (or whatever you prefer to name them).
> What is the role of the participant that needs something? On the one hand, Latin carere and egere mean 'to not have'. This would seem to involve a possessor. On the other hand, Cabecar kiana̱ means 'be wanted' and shë́na̱ means ‘be missed’. This would seen to involve an experiencer (a pretty ill-defined role, anyway).
> Such evidence from descriptive linguistics may imply that the presupposition of my question, viz. that there is a language-independent notion of 'need', is not fulfilled. This would be a pity, as it would render a comparative investigation of the kind 'how is the notion of "X needs Y" coded cross-linguistically' (in the spirit, e.g., of the Leipzig valency database) more complicated or even - from a theoretical point of view - impossible.
> Grateful for any helpful suggestions,
> Christian
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Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
Professor, Department of Linguistics
University at Buffalo 

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