Friday, April 26, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Thematic Relations

In our previous Intro to Linguistics posts, we've looked at some of the major fields of study within linguistics, such as morphology, syntax, and phonetics. Today, we're taking a more in-depth look at one specific aspect of semantics (the study of linguistic meaning) called thematic relations.

Thematic relations are semantic descriptions of how the things described in a noun phrase work in relation to the action or state described by the verb phrase. It sounds complicated, but it's really just difficult to express in a simple definition. Hopefully, the following list of major thematic relations, their definitions, and examples  (in parentheses) will help make the picture clearer.

Did we forget to mention that Caroline
is a Rainbow Lorikeet?
An agent performs the action deliberately. (Lady Gaga put on the meat dress.)

An experiencer, on the other hand, experiences the verb phrase, either through their senses or emotionally. (Bob heard the birds chirping.)

A theme undergoes the action but doesn't change state. (Caroline grabbed the apple.)

A patient is nearly identical to a theme, except its state does change. (Caroline chewed the apple.)

An instrument is obviously the thing used to carry out an action. (The squirrel bit the acorn with its teeth.) 

A force or natural cause mindlessly carries out an action, since it has no mind! (Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans.)

A location is where the action happens. (The cat slept in the basket.)

Time expresses, you guessed it, when the action occurs. (Sarah went to the swimming pool yesterday.)

A beneficiary receives the benefit of the action. (Maria made me a birthday cake.)

A monarch butterfly having a rest. 
The manner is the way that an action is carried out. (With great speed, the cat ran across the yard to escape the dog.)

The cause is what caused the action to occur. (William ate the cauliflower because he was hungry.)

The origin or source is where the action originated. (The butterfly began its migration from Mexico.)

As you can see, all these terms are fairly self-explanatory, and the list goes on and on. However, they are essential everyday terminology that help semanticians to analyze nouns in order to express the relationship between their meaning and the meaning of the verb in the sentence. It may sound boring, but we're sure you agree that it's important to know the meaning behind language!