Thematic role

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This page was written for Toaq Gamma. Its contents are not yet up to date with the latest version of Toaq, Toaq Delta.

A thematic role or semantic role is a way in which an object can relate to an event.

Some examples of thematic roles are:

  • “agent”: who is willfully causing this event?
  • “benefactor”: who benefits from this event?
  • “patient”: who or what is affected/changed by this event?

Syntactic and thematic roles

Thematic roles exist in contrast to syntactic roles, like “subject” or “direct object”: these describe a way in which something participates in a verb at the syntax level.

In Toaq, syntactic roles are the ones already represented by the “blanks” in verb definitions:

choıdea: ___ stabs ___.

Whereas thematic roles are represented using verbs that relate an event to an object, generally used as prepositions (hiatus tone):

nhuq: ___ happens for ___'s benefit.

An example

In the two sentences below, the syntactic subject and object are exchanged, but the thematic roles stay the same: Brutus, the agent, is causing change, while Caesar, the patient, suffers this change.

Sentence Syntactic roles Thematic roles
Subject Object Agent Patient
(1) Choıdea mí Butusu mí Kaısa da.
Brutus stabs Caesar.
Brutus Caesar Brutus Caesar
(2) Bọchoıdea mí Kaısa mí Butusu da.
Caesar is-stabbed-by Brutus.
Caesar Brutus Brutus Caesar

Note that the assignment of Agent and Patient roles to Brutus and Caesar happens “automatically” according to the semantics of choıdea. To stab is for an agent to stab a patient.

We can further dress the event up with a “benefactor” using a preposition:

(3) Choıdea mí Butusu mí Kaısa nhûq mí Loqgınu da.
(4) Bọchoıdea mí Kaısa mí Butusu nhûq mí Loqgınu da.

We say that the stabbing-event, or the being-stabbed-event, “happens for” Longinus's sake.

Table of thematic role words

Each of these has a definition like: “___ is an event with ___ as its (Role).”

Toaq word Role Example
bọtua Actor bộtua jí, “brought about by me”
bọtao Intentional actor bộtao jí, “done by me”
nhe Extent loq náo nhê néıheı keıcıu, “the water is 90°C hot”
zuo Purpose zûo ꝡä jaı súq, “so that you may be happy”
fana End point, direction, goal jara nháo fâna búe, “they run toward the house”
duo Duration jara nháo dûo sá hora, “they run for an hour”
kuı Reason soa jí súq kûı ꝡä paı súq jí, “I help you because you're my friend”
Words below this line are unofficial
sını Starting point, source, origin jara nháo sînı búe, “they run from the house”
gekyı[1] Stimulus achu jí gêkyı hóegıo, “I sneeze from the sunlight”
tekyı Patient ruqshua têkyı jí, “it rains on (affecting, i.e. wetting) me”
taqkyı Agent + patient (affecting self)
lıekyı Experiencer

“Agent” and “patient” roles are usually baked into a transitive verb, so translating toıkyı and tekyı can be a bit tricky or ambiguous.

  1. kyı is an invalid syllable, marking these words as somewhat more experimental than the others.