[Lingtyp] semantic role of participant that needs something

Patrick Daitya patrickdaitya at gmail.com
Sat Jul 2 04:58:43 UTC 2022

Hi Christian and Juergen,

This is a really interesting thread so I hope you don't mind if I
contribute some thoughts! My colleague (Grace Ephraums, Monash University)
and I have been investigating a similar idea but from the perspective of
nominal morphology. Your meaning A, Juergen, of negative possession is what
has been typically called the "privative" in literature on Australian
languages, referring to a nominal morpheme. And what we've been
investigating together is where the negative possession (what we call LACK)
causes a negative effect, or perhaps a failure to reach the goal - not sure
yet on what exactly to call this, but we've been calling this bit "REASON".
Our canonical examples of this have come from Yankunytjatjara and
Yuwaalaraay/Gamilaraay. Here's an example:

Kurun-na                          kuya             ngara-nyi,
spirit(NOM)-1sg(NOM)    bad(NOM)    stand-PRES    sleep-DEPRIV(NOM)
‘I’m uneasy, for want of sleep’
Yankunytjatjara (kdd)
Goddard, 1983 (p. 132)

It's got some interesting applications where it interacts with kinship
terms, interrogatives, and body-part nouns. But anyways - I don't think
this is particularly necessarily unique to Australian languages, but what
might be unique is the colexification of meanings A and B onto one
morpheme. To study something like this cross-linguistically would require,
if not refinement of semantic roles of the participant, then at least a
clear comparative idea of need/fulfillment. The interaction with body-part
nouns makes me think it really is about not just a negative effect, but a
negative effect that is implied to be a 'state where the participant is not
whole'. The most common scenarios I've observed in the data in Australian
languages with the deprivative is that the participant is hungry, dead,
thirsty, uneasy, etc. - states that imply some impairment of usual

So I'm not sure what you should use if you want to code examples of "X
needs Y" with 'classic' semantic roles, whatever that is. 'Experiencer'
would seem the most appropriate for most of the Australian data I've looked
at with the deprivative, though possessor would suffice and perhaps be
better for cases where there's no judgement about what the lack of Y
causes. Good luck and I hope this was of any use! Happy to chat about this
with anyone interested.

On Sat, Jul 2, 2022 at 1:37 PM Juergen Bohnemeyer <jb77 at buffalo.edu> wrote:

> 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
> > --
> > Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
> > Rudolfstr. 4
> > 99092 Erfurt
> > Deutschland
> >
> > Tel.: +49/361/2113417
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> Professor, Department of Linguistics
> University at Buffalo
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