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Thread poster: Natalia Garro
Charles Fillmore and Semantic Roles

Natalia Garro
Argentina
Local time: 03:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
Oct 3, 2008

Hey there! The other day we were delivering a special class on Charles Fillmore and we had to explain his Case Grammar theory together with Semantic Roles (Agent, Object, Benefactor, Location, Instrument). After explaining "Location" (the semantic role that identifies the location or spatial orientation of a state or action) an example was given to illustrate this concept. The example was "The paper is in the folder". Thus, "in the folder" would have the semantic value of Location. The question is: which value would you say that "The paper" has in this sentence? Would you say that it is the "Agent"? I wouldn't because "The paper" here is not the "doer" of the action. I mean, is "the paper" actually doing the action of being "in the folder"? I think I'm sort of messed up here.
Oh, and another thing: this may sound a little bit awkward but our teacher ended up asking us to find out whether Fillmore experienced a sort of trauma in his life and had to join some church because of this... I don't know why he would ask us to do this, but the thing is that there is not much information about Fillmore's personal life on the Internet.
Anyway, if you happen to know something, any help, comment or suggestion from you is always welcome. Thanks in advance.


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:11
Member (2011)
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
semantic/thematic roles Oct 4, 2008


SeFossePerMe wrote:

Hey there! The other day we were delivering a special class on Charles Fillmore and we had to explain his Case Grammar theory together with Semantic Roles (Agent, Object, Benefactor, Location, Instrument). After explaining "Location" (the semantic role that identifies the location or spatial orientation of a state or action) an example was given to illustrate this concept. The example was "The paper is in the folder". Thus, "in the folder" would have the semantic value of Location. The question is: which value would you say that "The paper" has in this sentence? Would you say that it is the "Agent"? I wouldn't because "The paper" here is not the "doer" of the action. I mean, is "the paper" actually doing the action of being "in the folder"? I think I'm sort of messed up here.
Oh, and another thing: this may sound a little bit awkward but our teacher ended up asking us to find out whether Fillmore experienced a sort of trauma in his life and had to join some church because of this... I don't know why he would ask us to do this, but the thing is that there is not much information about Fillmore's personal life on the Internet.
Anyway, if you happen to know something, any help, comment or suggestion from you is always welcome. Thanks in advance.



Hi,

These are referred to as semantic roles or thematic roles. They are one of the key items within the semantic-based linguistic theory, in contrast to syntax based analysis.

The example "The paper is in the folder" is poor because it is based on a stative verb (to be) which does not help see the range of the roles.
Let's take a sentences with a typical action verb and examples of the range of roles. There are more roles than you have listed there.

The main idea of get out of semantic analysis vs syntactic analyis is that in syntax, the elements (subject, direct object, indirect object) will change depending on where they are in the sentence, but at the semantic level, then will always stay the same.
For example:



Mary returned the ball to John in the yard by using a baseball bat.
Agent patient benefactor LOC INSTR

John received the ball in the yard from Mary
benefactor patient LOC Agent

The ball was hit to John from Mary with a baseball bat.
patient benef Agent INSTR

During my masters degree, I wrote a couple of papers on this, including one in which I compared several different versions of texts from the Bible to compare the semantic roles whereas the syntactic surface level sentences where presented different in the different versions. These demonstrated the semantic roles well, because it was taking several different written versions of the same text and seeing how they were semantically represented.


If you send me your contact details, I can look up and try to find a copy of that paper and send it to you. That was 15 years ago, so I'll have to check some backup CDs of what I wrote at that time.

Jeff


[Edited at 2008-10-04 18:49]


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Daniel Šebesta  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 07:11
Member (2007)
English to Czech
+ ...
"State carrier" Oct 4, 2008

I can't tell about Fillmore's concepts but in German linguistics (refer to Helbig/Buscha: Deutsche Grammatik, 2004, p. 468--472) "the paper" would be a "Zustandsträger" (= state carrier).

Are you sure one of the roles is "object"? That is a syntactic role, not semantic. You probably meant a patient.

After all, it's no wonder that many examples won't fit into your set of semantic roles. You mentioned only the "basic" ones. The above grammar lists 21 different semantic roles.

HTH,

Daniel


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Natalia Garro
Argentina
Local time: 03:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Patient/affected/undergoer Oct 5, 2008

Yes, that's totally true. I think that "Patient" is the semantic role of "The Paper" in that sentence. I found this:

"Patient (also known as affected or undergoer) is the semantic role of an entity that is not the agent but is directly involved in or affected by the happening denoted by the verb in the clause".

So "Patient" works perfectly fine here, I suppose.

Thanks a lot, Daniel!


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Daniel Šebesta  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 07:11
Member (2007)
English to Czech
+ ...
No, "state carrier" Oct 6, 2008


SeFossePerMe wrote:
I think that "Patient" is the semantic role of "The Paper" in that sentence. I found this:

"Patient (also known as affected or undergoer) is the semantic role of an entity that is not the agent but is directly involved in or affected by the happening denoted by the verb in the clause".

So "Patient" works perfectly fine here, I suppose.


No, I wasn't saying that "the paper" is a patient. I was just correcting your list of roles. "The paper" is a "state carrier".

HTH,

Daniel


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Natalia Garro
Argentina
Local time: 03:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
My mistake. Oct 6, 2008

Ok, my mistake then. Thanks anyway.

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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:11
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
The case for Case... Oct 9, 2008

To some extent, your teacher's question may have been rhetorical. In general, existential verbs tend to be 'black sheep' in terms of their syntax, and fitting them into a framework of thematic roles (of whatever flavour-- Fillmore's or other) a little bit arbitrary. BUT, I think the whole point of Fillmore's (and various subsequent) analyses is that the different roles map "by default" on to certain Cases, or at least, certain syntactic positions. You could argue that "by default", Agent maps on to the syntactic subject (or subject case)-- or, put another way, that all things being equal, Agent is the role that "prefers to get filled first". So unless you've a really strong reason to map 'the paper' to one of the other categories, Agent is probably a sensible 'default' choice.

I don't know Fillmore's theory in detail, but I suspect he must account for existentials at some point.

Daniel -- I assume you speak Czech: in the equivalent of "(the) paper is in the folder", does the word for "paper" appear in the nominative case in Czech?

Jeff -- what was your analysis of "let there be light"

BTW -- the church thing -- wasn't that a different Charles Fillmore?


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Daniel Šebesta  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 07:11
Member (2007)
English to Czech
+ ...
Nominative Oct 9, 2008


Neil Coffey wrote:

Daniel -- I assume you speak Czech: in the equivalent of "(the) paper is in the folder", does the word for "paper" appear in the nominative case in Czech?


Neil,

Yes, my native language is Czech. "The paper" in the equivalent sentence would be in the nominative case.

Daniel


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Charles Fillmore and Semantic Roles






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