Animacy, Generalized Semantic Roles, and Differential Object Marking

  • Beatrice Primus
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 40)


This chapter addresses the role of case and animacy as interacting cues to role-semantic interpretation in grammar and language processing. Animacy is interpreted as a cue to agentivity taken as a multidimensional, generalized semantic role. In this view, several agentivity properties entail or strongly correlate with animacy on the part of the respective participant. In contrast, none of the patient characteristics presuppose an animate participant. By abductive reasoning animacy is used as a probabilistic cue to agentivity. The empirical focus of this chapter lies on animacy-driven differential object marking (DOM). The selection of the case marker in the DOM-patterns under consideration, which was assumed to be triggered by the animacy of the second argument in previous approaches, is explicable by role-semantic constraints tied to agentivity. This view explains some DOM-related phenomena that remain unexplained in other approaches. The close connection between animacy and role-semantic interpretation is also manifest in language processing. This chapter reports experimental studies showing that the brain areas and the neuronal patterns that react to animacy effects are also involved in the interpretation of semantic roles. On a more general level, taking animacy as a cue to agentivity contributes towards a better understanding of the basic notions that characterize agentivity.


Noun Phrase Semantic Role Inanimate Object Object Marker Faithfulness Constraint 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I thank Marco García García for his help with the Spanish data, Thomas Anzenhofer and Jana Koshy for their help with the Malayalam data, and the editors of this volume and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on a previous version of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of German Language and Literature IUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

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