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Linguistics Fridays Colloquium – Rissman

December 6, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Weak evidence for shared Instrument Proto-roles across English, Dutch and German

Lilia Rissman

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Psychology

Thematic roles such as Agent and Patient have a controversial status in linguistic theory. Although roles are notoriously difficult to define, the role Agent has been argued to be part of universal core knowledge. Similarly, the Instrument role (e.g., Toni cut the bread with a knife) has been argued to be cross-linguistically universal. The prototypical Instrument is often characterized as an inanimate object manipulated intentionally in order to causally affect a patient, i.e. a “tool.” There is little evidence, however, that this prototype is shared widely across languages. In the current study, speakers of English, Dutch and German described prototypical and non-prototypical instrumental events and I analyzed whether the descriptions reflect similar instrumental categories. I found only weak evidence that the same set of events is encoded as most prototypical across these three genetically similar languages. This finding is at odds with the proposal that the Instrument role is cross-linguistically universal.



December 6, 2019
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Event Category:


155 Van Hise