[Lingtyp] semantic role of participant that needs something

Volker Gast volker.gast at uni-jena.de
Sat Jul 2 09:50:47 UTC 2022

Dear Christian,

I think a central question here is whether 'lack' is a predicate with 
in-built negation, assigning a possessor role to its higher argument and 
negating the Possessor relation, or whether it is a predicate that 
assigns the role of a non-Possessor (or would-be-Possessor) to that 

As far as I know, 'lack' licenses NPIs, e.g.:

(1) He lacks any sense of humour.

That seems to show that 'lack' essentially means 'not have', just like 
'being dead' means 'not being alive'.

I do not think that 'need' implies 'not have':

(2) I can't lend you my computer, I need it.

I would still maintain that this means "in the best of all worlds, I 
have a computer".

Perhaps Sebastian is right and the modal always has wide scope, i.e., 'I 
need a computer' simply means 'I need to have a computer' (though the 
feeling of not actually having a computer seems to be stronger in the 
latter case).

I wonder if evaluations should be factored into semantic roles. They 
seem to be located at a different level of interpretation. A semantic 
role is a relation between an event and a participant. An evaluation is 
a relation between an evaluator (the speaker or a participant) and a 
proposition. There are certainly predicates that encode both semantic 
relations and some type of evaluation; but then I would rather say that 
a predicate encodes some type of semantic role and, in addition, some 
type of evaluation (rather than including the evaluation in the semantic 

I think those problems have been discussed in the context of the 
adversative passive in Japaneses and related constructions (e.g. 
external possessors in European languages). For instance, 'Du stehst mir 
auf dem Fuß' also implies some negative evaluation, as opposed to 'Du 
stehst auf meinem Fuß'.


On 02.07.22 10:05, Christian Lehmann wrote:
> 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/ 
> 101/1:67-88.[télécharger 
> <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251003441_Les_roles_semantiques_comme_predicats>])
> 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 possessor'.
> 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.
> Christian
> -- 
> Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
> Rudolfstr. 4
> 99092 Erfurt
> Deutschland
> Tel.: 	+49/361/2113417
> E-Post: 	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
> Web: 	https://www.christianlehmann.eu
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