Aarhus Universitets segl

Kyle Johnson from University of Massechusetts: Thematic roles and implicit arguments

Presentation by Professor Kyle Johnson

Oplysninger om arrangementet


Fredag 16. december 2022,  kl. 14:15 - 16:00


Building 1481, room 324


School of Communication and Culture


Free DKK

Abstract: Thematic roles and implicit arguments

Some verbs are capable of being used without an expression of their arguments. The direct and indirect objects of eat and throw are standard examples.

(1) a.   Marlys ate cake.
             Marlys ate.

      b.    Marlys threw the ball to Sam.
             Marlys threw the ball.

The meanings of eat and throw preserve the thematic roles that cake and to Sam bear, even when those arguments are not present. Those thematic roles are then understood to be existentially closed. They are said to be implicit when this happens. The ability for a thematic role to be implicit seems to be idiosyncratically controlled by the verb, but it does not extend to external arguments. To make an external thematic role implicit, a valency changing operation is required (e.g. passivization). An external/internal argument contrast of this sort is also found in many kinds of Noun Incorporation constructions, and the lexically idiosyncratic nature of making a thematic role implicit also seems to be a feature of some Noun Incorporation constructions. Martí (2015) argues that the syntax and semantics of Noun Incorporation underlies making a thematic role implicit. I will pursue that hypothesis in this talk. I will suggest that we should think of thematic roles as being kinds of nominals, and sketch a syntax that makes sense of that idea. One of its consequences is that  thematic roles can undergo Incorporation, and this is how implicit arguments are achieved. Another of its consequences is that thematic roles have the syntax of Case and Agreement systems. They can be syntactically part of the arguments that are assigned the thematic role in question.


Martí, Luisa (2015). “Grammar versus Pragmatics: Carving Nature at the Joints”. In: Mind & Language 30.4, pp. 437-473.