Linguistic view of verbs

Kimmo Huovila kimmo.huovila at
Sun Oct 28 16:10:42 EST 2001

boyd at wrote:
> Iver wrote:
> <In semantics, it is more common to talk about verbs that have
> one, two or three basic valencies. These valencies are like arms
> that go out from the verb nucleus and are able to grab one to three
> nominals in various roles. The primary or basic semantic roles are:
> 1) agent (with subclasses:experiencer and cause), 2) patient or
> undergoer, 3) beneficiary or location.>
> Dear Iver, Kimmo, and others,
> What book could you recommend that would further explain the
> terminology and approach you mention above?  I always appreciate
> your contributions from linguistics--thanks for your work!
> Thanks,
> Jonathan Boyd
> Huxley, IA

I am not quite sure what kind of book you are looking for. I think most
introductions to semantics cover the semantic roles. If you want to go
for the original papers, see the following:
Fillmore, Charles (1968) The case for case. Universals in Linguistic
Theory, ed. by E. Bach and R. Harms, 1-88. New York: Holt, Rinehalt and
Fillmore, Charles (1977) The case for case reopened. Grammatical
relations (Syntax and Semantics 8), ed. by P. Cole and J. Sadock, 59-81.
New York: Academic Press.
If you like a more generative flavor: Chomsky, Noam (1981). Lectures on
Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris. (He uses the name Theta
But I think most introductions to semantics include something like this.
The book I studied at the University of Helsinki is Frawley, William
(1992) Linguistic Semantics, Hillsdale NJ, Hove and London: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.

If you study semantic roles deeper, you will find that different
linguists have a different set and a different number of roles,
especially the minor ones. There is some arbitrariness about it, though
the main roles are fairly similar, regardless of whom you read. That's
why it is a good idea to see how the person using the terms define them.

For valency: The term was introduced by Tesniere. Here is Matthews'
"Semantic Valency. The Valenscy of verbs, or of verbs in particular, in
terms of semantic roles or case roles. Thus 'eat' and 'see' both take a
subject and an object; in that sense they have the same syntactic
valency. But in 'I am eating' the subject of 'eat' is an agent, while in
'I can see it' that of 'see' is an experiencer. Therefore these vertbs
have different semantic valencies." - Matthews, P. H. (1997) The Concise
Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Page

I assume valency is taught in most standard introductions to
linguistics. It is a quite simple concept and I do not think you need to
read a whole book for it. A lot of syntactic studies touch on the topic,
but I can't think of one devoted to the topic right now. Perhaps someone
else on the list could recommend a good introduction to linguistics - I
assume you are not interested in books in Finnish, so I spare you from

A book that touches on both is Robert E. Longacre's The Grammar of
Discourse, but I am not sure I would call that an introduction. Without
quite a bit of background in linguistics, the book is quite hard

Iver would be more qualified to elaborate on the approach side of the
question, at least on his approach. FWIW, his definition of passive
seems to me (whether correctly or not, I am not sure) to have a somewhat
transformational background. I would not quite define it so
restrictively, but that is a matter of terminology. The way I use the
word, a verb with no active voice can still be passive - and a lot of
languages have these verbs with meaning that is similar to other
passives with active counterparts. But Iver's definition is not unique
to him - I suppose most Chomskian type of linguists would define it very
similarly to him. All this just says that we do not have a single
approach - we come from slightly different linguistic presuppositions.

Iver, I hope I did not misrepresent you in any way. Just correct me if I

Kimmo Huovila

More information about the B-Greek mailing list