[Lingtyp] semantic role of participant that needs something

Alex Francois alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com
Sat Jul 2 11:28:14 UTC 2022

dear Volker,

I believe part of the issue here is the ambiguity of the English gloss
It may mean at least 3 senses:

(1) possess, own
    {*I wish I had a large house*}

(2) be associated with (s.th., s.o.) in a more or less permanent way
    {*She has two brothers*}, {*He has red hair*}, {*Their house has two
living rooms*}

(3) have (s.th., s.o.) at one's disposal in a specific situation,
regardless of ownership
   {*Sorry I don't have a pen*}, {*Do you have an umbrella?*},
{*I had two friends over yesterday to help me moving*}

{x NEEDS y} might be paraphrased as {x needs to HAVE y}, but the expected
meaning in that case is the situational sense #3:
not X owning Y, but X benefitting from the availability of Y in a specific
This is clear from your example {*I can't lend you my computer, I need it*.}

Does this imply that the semantic role of X is not POSSESSOR ?  Well, not
necessarily, considering that the typological concept of "possession" is
hardly about ownership (as is sometimes assumed), but about a much more
general association between two participants, whether permanent or
temporary -- along the lines of the three senses above for *have*. (Thus I
can lend you "my pen" even if it's not actually mine, but the one I
happen to hold in my hand.)

This broader sense can also be made to suit cases where the object of NEED
is a verb or a deverbal noun:
{*They need (to) rest*} = 'Getting some rest (in this specific situation)
would be beneficial to them.'

In sum, NEED might indeed be formalized as involving HAVE, as long as
"Have" (and "possession") are understood in their situational sense.


Alex François
LaTTiCe <http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–
–Sorbonne nouvelle
Australian National University
Personal homepage <http://alex.francois.online.fr/>

On Sat, 2 Jul 2022 at 12:00, Volker Gast <volker.gast at uni-jena.de> wrote:

> Hi Sebastian,
> 'need' is primarily a modal, of course. The question is whether 'I need
> a bike' means 'I need to have a bike' or something else. I suppose
> that's an empirical question. As I wrote in my other mail, 'I need a
> computer' seems to have different truth conditions from 'I need to have
> a computer', but I'm not sure about this. It would also make sense to
> look into the distribution of these elements relative to different types
> of polarity contexts, for instance:
> (1) Few students need a computer. (sounds fine to my non-native ears)
> (2) Few students need to have a computer. (no idea how good or bad that
> is, and whether it's equivalent to [1])
> If 'need NP' has a different distribution from 'need to HAVE NP', that
> could point to different scope relations between the modal component and
> the semantic role. I (obviously) haven't thought this through, however.
> Best,
> Volker
> On 02.07.22 10:41, Sebastian Nordhoff wrote:
> > On 7/2/22 09:41, volker.gast at uni-jena.de wrote:
> >> I would say that a Needer is a deontic Possessor while a Wanter is a
> >> bouletic possessor.
> >
> > Dear all,
> > while I find the idea of modalized Possessors very attractive, they
> > run into problems with abstract concepts
> >
> > (1) I need sleep
> > (2) I need a break
> > (3) I want love
> >
> > Would we say that in (1), the speaker is a deontic possessor of sleep?
> >
> > the expressions for NEED and WANT can often take both nominal and
> > verbal compliments, and probably the semantic role would be the same
> > in both cases
> >
> > (1') I need to sleep
> > (2') I need to rest
> > (3') I want to be loved
> >
> > I wonder to what extent possessors can be used for catching this
> > generalization.
> >
> > Best wishes
> > Sebastian
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