A relational noun such as father can take two arguments, e.g.

(1) a. Bill is Jane’s father.

(2) a. Jane’s father is friendly.

It is, I believe, natural to view the relational noun father in (1) as a predicate taking the two arguments Bill and Jane. Given this analysis of father in sentence (1), I am wondering how father in sentence (2) is analyzed, since it is functioning there as the subject argument of the predicate is friendly. One might render the predicate-argument analyses of these two sentences as follows:

(1) b. father (Bill, Jane)

(2) b. friendly (Jane’s father)

It seems that there is a qualitative difference across sentences (1a) and (2a) regarding the semantic status of father. In particular, what are the arguments of the relational noun father in sentence (2a)? Can we still view father in (2a) as taking two arguments? If yes, what is the other argument of father there – the one argument of father in (2) is obviously Jane?

Any tips about where this issue is addressed in the literature on predicates would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

  • 3
    Isn't this also the case for a non-relational noun: "Bill is Jane's doctor", "Jane's doctor is friendly"? Or even: "Bill is the professor", "the professor is friendly"?
    – Draconis
    Jan 20 at 15:43
  • 2
    I don't think relationality has anything to do with it. The basic difference between predicate nouns and others is that one is outfitted like a verb, with auxiliaries and inflections, and the other isn't. Though at some semantic level, every meaningful lexical item is its own predicate (e.g, "There exists an X such that FATHER (X, Jane")) and that will be specified in a sufficiently deep analysis.
    – jlawler
    Jan 20 at 20:41
  • 2
    In the constructed language Lojban, any predicate (including its arguments) can be turned into an argument by preceding it with an "article". So from the predicate patfu la Djein "is a father to Jane" we can get le patfu be la Djein "the individual(s) I am describing as satisfying the predicate 'is the father to Jane'" ('be' is syntactic glue, to keep the argument within the description).
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 20 at 23:26
  • Thanks for the comments! The difference between predicate nouns and others that are not is particularly pertinant here.
    – Buffoon
    Jan 23 at 3:44


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