[Lingtyp] semantic role of participant that needs something

Christian Lehmann christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de
Sat Jul 2 08:05:16 UTC 2022

Dear everybody,

many thanks for your help. At least some of the discussion seems to 
converge on the following points:

Fillmore-style semantic roles (i.e. semantic relations between a 
referent and a situation core, conceived at a level of generality that 
can cover different situation cores [coded by different verbs]) are best 
analyzed in terms of primitive predicates. (I could have known this; s.:
Lehmann, Christian 2006, “Les rôles sémantiques comme prédicats”. 
/Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris/ 

Then the meaning of 'X /lacks/ Y' may boil down to 'X does not have Y'.
The meaning of 'X /needs/ Y' would include this proposition and another 
one like 'for X not to have Y affects X negatively' or alternatively 
'for X to have Y would be positive for X' (with obvious choices for more 
formalization). This would encompass Volker's notion of 'modalized 

Now assuming that /lack/ has the meaning indicated, then 'for X not to 
have Y affects X negatively' may be a conversational implicature. On 
this basis, a language (maybe Yankunytjatjara) may have 'lack' and lack 
'need'. On the other hand, there are languages like German and Cabecar 
which have 'need', but lack 'lack'.

Returning to semantic roles: Given 'X does not have Y', X clearly has 
the possessor role. However, 'X does not have Y' is not the "point" in 
the meaning of 'need'; the point is that it would be better for X to 
have Y. Then the question remains whether there is any semantic role 
(already known) which covers this relation of X. Randy argues that the 
case is analogous to 'love', so the role is experiencer. It is also true 
that the role of X in 'X needs Y' is often coded as some sort of dative 
dependent, which would fit the experiencer interpretation. However, it 
also fits the possessor interpretation, so this may not be decisive. On 
the basis of Jürgen's paraphrase, X would be affected. This would be 
covered by the role of patient. However, no data have been adduced where 
X in 'X needs Y' would be in some kind of undergoer role.

Maybe the affectation of X here is not the immediate affectation of a 
patient, but rather the mediate affectation undergone by the participant 
bearing a benefactive role. Then the role of X in 'Z is (not) good for 
X' would be the malefactive role; if it is converted into 'it would be 
good for X if Z were the case', it is the benefactive role. This would 
again be compatible with the dative often associated with 'need'.

It remains to say that the experiencer and the benefactive roles are not 
entirely disjunct, as far as definitions known to me go.


Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt

Tel.: 	+49/361/2113417
E-Post: 	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
Web: 	https://www.christianlehmann.eu
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