Each linguistic unit and syntactic function has a thematic potential, that is, the set of thematic relations it can convey; this conditions the possibilities of application of the assigning mechanism. Thus, an NP like my father can be Agent, or Patient, but not an Instrument, while with my left hand can be Instrument but not Agent or Patient. The thematic potential of an unit is an important part of its meaning, and it correlates in part with lexicogrammatical factors: there are thematic relations that cannot be expressed by in-phrases: Cause, for instance, or Source. And, as is well known, an object (i.e., a nonsubject NP) can never express the Agent. Many units have a complex potential, and in such cases the sentence is disambiguated by pragmatic factors; this is why with my sister cannot (in normal circumstances) be interpreted as Instrument, and is understood as Company; with my left hand, on the other hand, is Instrument, not Company; this comes from the meaning of the NP that follows the preposition with; the preposition has both roles in its thematic potential.
KeywordsPragmatic conditioning of roles Syntactic potential Thematic potential
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