Sie sind auf Seite 1von 12



Submitted as a Final Assignment of Semantics

Lecturer: Suwono, Ph. D.

Syifa Khuriyatuz Zahro 147835035

Class A





An important aspect of lexical meaning is the semantics of events. An event is
represented by predicate or possibly other predicators. Each event composed of
participants that are formed from referring expressions. Such participants are often
characterized as filling distinct roles such as agent, patient and location. Those
participants are called as participant or semantic (Hurford et al., 2007) or thematic roles.
(Gruber, 1965)
This paper answers the following questions. To what extent the representation of
event can mark as certain participant roles? Is there any relation between participant role
and sense relation? What are the possible problems in assigning semantic roles? Hence,
this paper focuses on describing the extent of representation of participant roles; the
relation between participant role and sense relation and the possible problems in assigning
semantic roles.

1. Definition of Participant Role
Hurford et al. (2007) asserts participant roles as a relationships between a verb
(and possibly other predicators) and the referring expressions in a sentence.
Meanwhile, Jackendoff (1972) states it is the semantic relation between the
arguments of the verb and the situation described by the verb. He argues that
thematic roles are fundamentally semantic in nature. (1972)
1.1. Referring Expression
Meanwhile, he states that referring expression is any expression used in an
utterance to refer to something or someone, namely used with particular referent
in the mind of the speaker. (2007:37)
1.2. Predicate
It is any word (or sequence of words) which (in a given single sense) can
function as the predicator of a sentence. (2007:48) Not only verbs, but also
nouns, adjectives and prepositions are all semantically predicate.
1.3. Predicator
Hurford et al. (2007:47) argued that it is the word (sometimes a group of
words) which does not belong to any of the referring expressions
1.4. Argument
Argument is role played by the referring expressions. (2007:48)
2. Types of Participant Role
a) Agent
The Agent of a sentence is the person deliberately carrying out the action
described. (Hurford et al., 2007:245). It is the volitional causer of an event.
(Jurafsky and Martin, 2009). For example:
A burglar ransacked my house
When the Agent role is expressed in the Complement of a sentence (as in
passive sentences) the preposition expresses this role is by. (Hurford et al., 2007)
For example:
My house is ransacked by a burglar
Jackendoff (1972) breaks down the Agent category into three subtypes: Actor,
volitional Actor, and extrinsic Instigator of Event. While Dowty (1991) states that
there is no known language in which the agent of such verbs does not appear in
subject position
b) Affected or Patient
The Affected participant is the thing (not usually a person, although it may be)
upon which the action is carried out (2007:245-246). It is the participant most
directly affected by an event. (Jackendoff, 1972). For examples:
Muriel dealt the cards carefully
(Dowty, 1991) proposes that Agent and Patient are prototypes, each encoding
a cluster of participant properties.
c) Instrument
The Instrument is the thing (hardly ever a person) by means of which the
action is carried out. (Hurford et al., 2007:246). It is an instrument used in an
event. (Jurafsky and Martin, 2009). It is also causal intermediary in an event
(Koenig et al., 2008)
For examples:
Seymour sliced the salami with a knife
Koenig et al. (2008:180) argue that in instrumental role the object of with and
the direct object of use target very similar, if not identical, L-thematic roles. Valin
and Wilkins (1996) argue that agent, force and instrument are subtypes of the
larger role Effector
d) Location
The role of Location is played by any expression referring to the place where
the action described by a sentence takes place. (2007:249)
Im meeting Dick at Waverley Station
Prepositions which are typically used in connection with the expression of
Location role are: in, at, on, under, nearby, above. (2007:250)
When the Instrument role is expressed in the Complement of a sentence, the
preposition that is typically used to express it is with (and sometimes by) (Hurford
et al., 2007)
e) Beneficiary
The Beneficiary is the person for whose benefit or to whose detriment the
action described by the sentence is carried out (2007:249). It is the beneficiary of
an event. (Jurafsky and Martin, 2009)
Alan was sent a special offer from the Readers Digest
Prepositions which are typically used to express the Beneficiary role, with or
without paraphrasing, are: for, to (2007:250) for example:
Readers Digest sent a special offer for Alan
f) Experiencer
The Experiencer is typically a person who is mentally aware of, perceives, or
experiences the action or state described by the sentence, but who is not in control
of the situation. (2007:251). It is the experiencer of an event. (Jurafsky and
Martin, 2009)
The children heard the loud noise
g) Theme
The Theme participant is a thing or person whose location is described, or a
thing or person that is perceived by an Experiencer(2007:251). Gruber (1965:48)
characterizes a theme as an entity which is conceived as moving.
The children heard the loud noise

3. The Relationship between the Roles and Grammatical Positions

Before exploring the relationship between the roles and grammatical positions,
it is necessary to know the position of a referring expression in a sentence which is
very loosely correlated with grammatical positions such as follow: (2007:247)
a) Subject Position
Subject is commonly preceding main verb, for example: John opened the
door with the key.
b) Object Position
Object is placed immediately following main verb, for example: John
opened the door with the key
c) Complement Position
The complement is located after the verb, but not immediately, often after
preposition, for example: John opened the door with the key
Those role mentioned above (agent, affected, instrument, location, beneficiary,
experience and theme) are roles which can equal to grammatical positions.
Grammatical positions, subject, object and complement position, in a sentence and
the participant roles which occupy these positions are independent kinds. Thus, the
relationship between the semantic roles and the grammatical positions can be
described as below: (Hurford et al., 2007)

3.1. Agent, Affected and instrument roles

They may be combined with those three grammatical positions that are
subject, object and complement position. The possible combination can be
illustrated as follows: (Hurford et al., 2007:248)
a) The most common combinations of participant role with grammatical
position are Agent Subject and Affected Object. For example:
Vandals set alight the hut
b) The rare combinations of participant role with grammatical position are
Agent in object position, and Instrument in object position. For example
people tend to say : Hamish open the tin with a screwdriver, rather than
saying : Hamish used a screwdriver to open the tin
c) The most versatile position for the greatest variety of different participant
roles are subject position and complement position. For example: Sidney
swatted the fly with his hat
d) The least versatile grammatical position is object position since agent and
instrument are hardly ever found in object position.
3.2. Location and Beneficiary roles
They are correlated with both Subject position and Complement position.
- Location for examples:
The summer is humid in Tallahassee -- Tallahassee is humid in summer
- Beneficiary for examples:
Charles built a bookcase for Emily - Emily was built a bookcase by Charles.
3.3. Experiencer and Theme role
Subject and object positions can be occupied by both Experiencer and
Theme role. (2007). They are not restricted to subject position in active sentence
and object position in passive sentence for example:
Jim has a Honda -- The Honda belongs to Jim
In brief, there is some systematic relationship between the semantic roles and
the grammatical positions, but it is evidently a complicated relationship.
4. Logical Approach
Logic provides logical formulae for unambiguously representing the essentials of
propositions. In simple propositions such as simple sentences which have just one
predicator, the formulae are written in capital letters. While the arguments of the
predicator are represented by single lowercase letters, putting one of these letters
before the predicator. (Hurford et al., 2007) For examples:
John opened the door with the key as j OPEN d k (open as a three-place
The key opened the door would be k OPEN d (open as a two-place predicate)
The door opened would be d OPEN (open as one-place predicate).
This notation fails to show that in all three cases the door is involved in exactly
the same way in the action of opening, and it also fails to show that in the first two
cases the keys participation in the action is the same.
In relation to participant role, the augment of the logical formulae could be
represented by the following way: (Hurford et al., 2007)
Floyd smashed the glass with the hammer
f SMASH g h

The hammer smashed the glass

The glass smashed

The glass appears before or after the verb smashed (or whether its logical name
g is mentioned first or second in the logical formula), the way in which the glass
participates in the act of smashing described is the same: the door is the object
affected. (Hurford et al., 2007) In short, logical approaches emphasize entailment
relations between sentences.
5. Role Frame Approach
Participant roles can be included in the dictionary. In the dictionary entry for
each verb in the language there will be a role frame. The parentheses indicate that
the roles are optional with this verb. The role not enclosed by parentheses is
obligatory. For examples: (Hurford et al., 2007:253).
John opened the door
Agent Affected
The key opened the door
Instrument Affected
The door opened
The Affected role, when it is permitted at all, is obligatory in these examples.
The Agent role is frequently permitted, though never obligatory, in these examples.
These two facts reflect a quite general trend in the language. Briefly, the role-frame
approach concentrates more on the semantic relationships between referring
expressions inside a sentence.

6. Discussion
There are many underlying points to focus on this discussion. They are
describing the extent of representation of particular participant roles; whether the
relation between participant role and sense relation and the possible problems in
assigning semantic roles.
6.1. The Extent of the Participant Role Representation
From the theory of participant roles above, it seems easy to decide whether
certain referring expression of particular predicates tend to fit into. This is
because the examples used are in the form of simple propositions such as simple
sentences. In an example like
Charles eat rice by spoon at home for Elisabeth
The agent of the verb eat is clearly Charles while the affected is rice then spoon
stand the role of instrument and home is the location role and also Elisabeth is a
The representation of each role within such sentence is easily defined since
the five roles come into a simple sentence with clear doer, the result of the doing,
the means of the doing.
Another simple sentence which seems complicated is when the doer and the
receiver are not clear enough. Such difficulty rises in deciding proper role. A
case below requires further analysis and further elaboration of the theoretical and
descriptive framework. The case appears where the roles cannot be assigned
clearly, for example in comparing these two identical sentences.
Feni bought a goat from Rizal
Rizal sold a goat to Feni
The event described by these sentences, there are three participants, Feni,
Rizal, and the goat. But, in the first sentence Feni seems to be an agent while in
the second sentence she is the beneficiary. The question is whether a referring
expression can accept more than one role relation to the verb.
As a result, it is necessary to define further roles in which perhaps will bring
countless more roles. But the need to postulate relatively few roles. Since the
more roles one postulates, the weaker is the theory of roles, because the
proliferation of roles makes it more difficult to capture broad generalizations on
how participant roles work.
6.2. The Relation between Participant Role and Sense Relation
The concept of participant role gives a new element to the study of sense
relations. In study of sense, the elements involved are the sense of proper
meaning of a particular word such as synonymy, hyponymy, antonym,
homonymy and polysemy. Those terms are encoded either similarity of sense or
oppositeness of sense or an ambiguity.
In the case of participant role, the sense deals with how does predicate (or
possibly predicator) relate to the argument as the participant in particular
sentence. In this regard, the type of sense relation is case relations. The relation
is embedded to refer to relations the main verb and the some argument represents
its role in a sentence. The verbs in a sentence assign roles to the subject or
complement which are sometimes referred to as the arguments of the verbs. For
example, in the sentence Tina bought a watch for John, the case relations
between the verb buy and the arguments role are:
Tina [agent]
watch [affected]
John [beneficiary]
The word buy may relate four participants: the buyer, the seller, the thing
that is bought, and the price. Above example illustrates buy with three
participants which are assigned the roles agent (Mary), affected (watch),
beneficiary (John) to distinguish between them.
Each verb sense is associated with a case frame with slots, each slot having a
case role. A case frame specifies the number of entities the verb expects in the
proposition, the case roles assigned to these entities, whether each role is
obligatory or optional specifying the semantic category of the role frame
approach, and the syntactic realization of each role in the simple proposition in
relation to grammatical position, whether the role expressed as subject,
In a few words, the relation between participant role and sense relation is
correlated to between sense of verb or predicate and the argument role within a
simple proposition so that they relate particular senses of words.

6.3. Possible Problems

In fact, there are possibilities of problems in the concept of participant role.
They are involved:
a) Role Frame Approach
A problem with the role frame approach is that the role-frame approach
pays more attention to the roles typically expressed by adverbial phrases,
such as Location and Instrument, which logical approaches frequently
neglect. On the other hand, the role-frame approach generally pays little
attention to the logicians insight that not only verbs, but also nouns,
adjectives and prepositions are all semantically predicates. The role
approach concentrates almost exclusively on verbs.
Therefore, it is difficult to propose a suitable semantic role for the
italicized referring expressions in subject position in sentences like the
The book is for John
The car is black
The movie is interesting
This is another problem of participant role within role-frame approach
which comes from the restricted thought of verb as the predicate.
b) Thematic roles and grammatical relations
Thematic roles and grammatical relations do not correlate one-to-
one. In the example of
The book is for John.
None of the roles (Agent, Instrument, Beneficiary, Location, Affected,
Experiencer, and Theme) seems to fit the case of the referring expression
this book in subject position
There would extend the notion of theme to include situations in
which a referring expression is essentially inert or neutral with respect to the
predicator in the sentence. So there is clearly room for more research in this
area of semantics.
From the discussion above, it can be concluded that participant role representation is
restricted to simple proposition such as simple sentence. These types of participant roles,
agent, affected, instrument, location, beneficiary, experiencer, and theme are easily
recognized in such simple sentence with clear role. Meanwhile the role seems
complicated when the doer and the receiver are not clear enough. Furthermore, the
concept of participant role gives a new element to the study of sense relations. It is case
relations which is correlated to between sense of verb or predicate and the argument role
within a simple proposition so that they relate particular senses of words. On the other
hand, there are possibilities of problems in the concept of participant role. The first is the
role-frame approach which hass restricted thought of only verb as the predicate. The
second is thematic roles and grammatical relations do not correlate one-to-one so that
there would extend the notion of theme to include situations.

Dowty, D. 1991. Thematic Proto-Roles and Argument Selection. Language Vol. 67 No. 3
pp. 547-619.
Gruber, Jeffrey S. 1965. Studies in Lexical Relations. Unpublished PhD dissertation Thesis,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Press.
Hurford, J. R., Heasley, B, & Smith, M. B. 2007. Semantics: A Coursebook (2nd ed.). New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Jackendoff, Ray. 1972. Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. Cambridge, Mass:
MIT Press.
Jurafsky, Daniel, & Martin, James H. (Eds.). 2009. Speech and Language Processing: An
Introduction to Natural Language Processing, Computational Linguistics, and
Speech Recognition: Prentice Hall, Pearson Education International.
Koenig, J, G, P Mauner., Bienvenue, B, & Conklin, K. 2008. What With? The Anatomy of a
(Proto)-Role. Journal of Semantics Vol. 25 No. 2 pp. 175-220.
Valin, R. Van, & Wilkins, D. 1996. The Case for 'Effector': Case Roles, Agents, and Agency
Revisited. In M. Shibatani & S. A. Thompson (Eds.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.