I am new to thematic roles (agent, thema, experiencer, patient, etc.) and need to assign thematic roles to the subject in some sentences. However, in a number of sentences I am unsure of the thematic role of the subject.

(1) The show begins.

In sentences like 'She began to work' the subject is clearly agentive. But how could you classify the subject in (1)?

(2) Henry lives in Manchester. (3) Henry lives a happy life.

For me the subject in (2) is more agentive than in (3). Does this result in different thematic roles?

(4) I slept for three hours.

Well, this has lot to do with the question if 'to sleep' is an action, proces or a state.

(5) She fell for a scam.

I'm totally unsure about this one (for sure it is not agentive).

Can you help me with these?

Thank you!

  • 1
    Where did you get these terms? Thema? Agentive? What linguist? What school of linguistics?
    – Lambie
    May 11 at 13:38
  • 1
    Most scholars nowadays don’t treat thematic roles as distinct categories with clear boundaries.
    – Keelan
    May 12 at 0:51
  • 1
    @Lambie: These terms are used in German linguistics. I thought they were internationally known. Agent: person who performs an act and has control over that act Patiens: physically affected by an action, without control over this action. ("The car (!) was destroyed by a tree.") Experiencer: carrier of a mental state, i.e. a perceiver or percipient ("He (!) loves his new shoes.") Thema: subject of a cognitive, communicative or emotional situation ("This football match (!) doesn't interest me.")
    – user45203
    May 12 at 8:08
  • Agent as in agent in a passive sentence but not the others.
    – Lambie
    May 12 at 12:12
  • 1
    These are indeed very common terms in linguistics, but they are understood somewhat differently, depending on whose work and paradigm you're interested in, Frawley, Van Valin etc. Btw, it’s usually theme, not thema in English.
    – Alex B.
    May 12 at 12:54

1 Answer 1

  1. Theme. An agent is, by definition, sentient. Non-sentient arguments are commonly themes.

2-4. Experiencer. Living and sleeping can be argued to be states, rather than actions.

  1. Patient or theme. Patient is a sentient argument undergoing an action, but theme is also commonly used.

Theta roles are loosely defined and applied and I would not worry about being precise.

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