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|EAJS Conference 2008 (Lecce, Italy)|
Semantic Roles in Teaching Japanese Verbal Constructions
Simone Dalla Chiesa
The University of Milano
As a Researcher of the University of Milano, I teach Japanese grammar to all five grades of the undergraduate and graduate programs in Cultural and Linguistic Mediation. My assignment consists in 40 hours a year per grade, while the remaining 80 yearly hours are taught by native speakers. The textbook we use in the undergraduate course is ICU's New Japanese for College Students (1996).
In teaching Japanese verbs and their constructions, beginning with watasi wa nihonzin dewa arimasen, I greatly evaluate the logical and heuristic power of the notion of case. As a signal of the relationship of nouns to their (verbal) heads (from Blake 2001: 1), surface case represents, as I love to say, the embodiment or morphosyntactic epiphany of the verb within the surface structure of a sentence. At the same time, however, I also feel the strong need of anchoring case assignment to a deeper substratum of meaning. This is why I also introduce my students to the notion of semantic roles. Identifying the roles of the entities syntactically realized by the phrases of a sentence makes it possible to reveal those meaning relations that in most situations determine surface case marking, but and also to connect predicates to the events they express, and thus reach the very dimension at which verb classes are generated.
It is precisely to show the relation of verbs, cases and roles, and how semantic roles often function as a bridge between the ontology of events and the morphosyntactic marking of nominals, that I developed the graphic representations I will treat in this paper: the "balloon graph" and a two-dimension table. I use these graphic devices from "day zero", my very first lecture to the first grades, as they are simple and self explanatory enough not to require any complex theoretical framing. In my paper I will therefore touch several issues concerning argument realization, and (in the Conclusion) will also briefly consider the theoretical implications of my approach, but will not extensively discuss linguistic theory or deal in detail with the notions of semantic role and case.
While I developed both graphs by myself, I am not the original inventor of the balloon graph. Ultimately, I owe my interest in verbal constructions and my teaching techniques to Professor Teramura Hideo and to Tsukuba University, where I studied in the middle of the 1980s. I was never taught by Teramura himself, but I absorbed his interests, approach and methods through my teachers, his monograph Nihongo no sintakusu to imi (1982) and his textbooks An Introduction to the Structure of Japanese (1973) and, later, Nihongo zyookyuu bunpoo kyoohon (1988). However, despite the overt influence of Fillmore (1968) case theory, Teramura's textbooks classify predicates only on the basis of their superficial case structures, without mentioning deep cases or thematic roles. Neither they make use of any graphic aid. Students were offered some simple graphic representation, like the primitive balloon graph that follows, only on the classroom's blackboard.
Graph 1: okuru
Despite its crude form, Graph 1 has several merits. For instance, by observing the number and surface marking of the argument NPs displayed in the upper ovals, one can easily deduce the existence of a ditransitive verb class to which okuru belongs. The question words in the upper balloons also helps identify the kind of entities participating in the event, so that this graph might be said to somehow link semantics and syntax and crudely represent argument structure. Moreover, if it is read as English text, left-to-right and up-to-down, the whole balloon sequence captures the "ordinary" word order of a Japanese sentence.
The use of graphs of this kind is quite diffused in contemporary language teaching. The following is a similar but more sophisticated graph taken from an Italian language teaching manual (D'Alfonso 2001: 13-16). The verb is the same, but I changed the language to English.
Graph 2: John send flowers to Mary.
Drawing the arguments under the verb effectively hints at the fact that the predicate can be seen as the dominating feature of a sentence, in that it controls the number and marking of its arguments. Predicate and particles are boxed exactly in order to distinguish their shared "harder" nature from that of the nominals, which, as fillers, are displayed in "softer" oval balloons. Also, while the argument NPs marked by a direct case are directly linked to the predicate box, the indirect object "Mary" connects to the predicate via an intermediate, smaller box attached under the belly of the verb, which contains the particle to. I think the logic of this is quite obvious. Finally, the double line linking the leftmost balloon to the predicate has the aim to single out that phrase as the subject. Since in Italian schools such a configurational approach is the norm, I decided to implement the double line in my graphs as well.
In its complete form, Graph 2 would appear as follows.
Graph 3: English dative verb class, complete representation
Starfish-like Graph 3 shows the complete set of phrases composing the sentence of a dative verb, but could be used to represent the construction of any verb class. Its main feature is that it does capture a hierarchy of constituents, with the most important ones for the verbal prototype displayed, alas, at the bottom. The dashed balloons sitting on the two sides of the predicate represent a second "tier" of phrases, bound to local functions, whose instantiation is required by certain classes of predicates. The upper ovals contain the other, least important adjuncts. The actual construction of a given predicate class is obtained from a matrix of this kind by pruning off the unneeded arms. But there is simply no room on the page or on the blackboard to implement such a process, the graph is too large and complicated, and, at least for English, flawed by its impossibility of representing the double object alternation.
In its simple form, the above kind of graph could represent the construction of a dative Japanese verb such as osieru as follows.
Graph 4: Balloon graph of dative verb osieru, with boxed particles
I dislike Graph 4 because, with the exception of certain adverbs, in Japanese all arguments and adjuncts are realized with the "mediation" of a particle, and connecting their balloons to the verb via a "particle box" becomes superfluous. I prefer the "full balloon approach" of Graph 5.
Graph 5: Simple balloon graph of dative verb osieru
Displaying in ovals both predicate and NPs makes it easier to understand that particles and verbs are actually a whole thing, albeit of a different lexical nature. Moreover, circles are easier to trace on the blackboard and offer more line-connecting points when drawn by Microsoft Word. Finally, writing case particles within each balloon is more elegant and simple than boxing them, and better represents the logical relation that links them to the predicate.
Graph 5 can be expanded into Graph 6 in order to display adjuncts, cases and roles.
Graph 6: Balloon graph of dative osieru, with adjuncts, case and role names
This is the final form of my balloon graphs. Each balloon represents a single phrase, and displays a case name, its marker, and the label of the semantic role thus realized. Adjuncts are drawn on the extreme right, well separated from the balloons of the argument NPs. All possible adjuncts could be included in the graph, if space and time allow it, but usually that is not necessary, as students soon learn that most common adjuncts can be added to any kind of sentence.
Before proceeding further, I need to remark the fact that my balloon graphs are not well suited for representing the word order of a Japanese sentence. If faithful to the syntax, a balloon representation of a verb's sentence would appear as nothing more than a mere circling or boxing of the constituents.
Graph 7: Japanese syntax, three-argument sentence
As representations in two dimensions of a melody of phrases, balloon graphs have the purpose to reveal those logical and semantic connections that do not easily show in one dimension. They are not suitable for representing constituents' linear order. Trying to do this would make the graphs too complicated and decrease their heuristic power. This is why I decided of not concerning myself with word order.
This is not necessary with Chinese, though. The following are the two "insect-like" balloon graphs of the alternate constructions of ditransitive predicate教 jiāo.
Graph 8: Double-object construction of Chinese dative verb jiāo
Tā jiāo xiǎoháizi yīngwén.
Graph 8 represents the two-object construction of jiāo. Constituents are read left to right, following the natural word order of the sentence.
Graph 9: Alternate construction of Chinese "give" verb jiāo
Tā gěi xiǎoháizi jiāo yīngwén.
Graph 9 shows instead the dative/benefactive alternation of jiāo, characterized by the presence of an indirect dative phrase between subject and predicate, in the position required of concrete cases. I make no further comment on this chart, but just notice the boxing of the preposition 给 gěi.
I am introducing next some powerful applications of the balloon graph, starting with the construction of the change-of-state verb naru.
Graph 10: Balloon graph of naru
Stacked balloons represent phrases that cannot cooccur. I usually link these balloons with a vertical line. In Graph 10, the ovals stacked on the right display the realization of different lexical categories, from nouns in the two uppermost positions (the "default" category, therefore let unspecified) to an embedded sentence F' at the bottom. The e case marker is not very common with naru, and students hardly meet it in classes. I will explain later why I added it. I draw this graph when treating Unit 8 of our ICU textbook, after about 16 weeks of classes. At this early stage, students still have little knowledge of verbs' plain forms, thus I usually leave the bottom balloon empty.
Graph 10 is most useful for showing case assignment and role realization, but it also helps explain that the adverbial particle ku of i- adjectives functions as a translative case marker.1 Moreover, it illustrates how the sentence structure of naru (and more generally of Japanese achievement verbs of change of state) is matching with that of the motion verbs of change of place.
Graph 11: Balloon graph of iku
Graphs 10 and 11 have the purpose of showing that naru/kawaru and iku actually belong to a common "translative" prototype of "moving between points": physical places in the case of iku, abstract locations or conditions in the case of naru or kawaru. In order to capture this relation I use the following devices: (1) I display the e NP of naru's construction so to have a closer match between the constructions of naru and iku; (2) I assign the denomination of translative to the oblique case of both the abstract goal phrase of naru and the spatial goal phrase of iku (rather than directional or Martin's (1975: 41) mutative and mutative locative respectively); (3) I use semantic role labels to point out that the parts played by the entities participating in the motion events described by naru and iku are very similar: an entity moves from a physical or an abstract location, the source, to another location of the same kind, the goal. This moving entity is the patient, but it moves spontaneously in naru and volitionally in iku, hence its additional agent role with the latter verb.2 I thus suggest that the matching between naru/kawaru's and iku's surface case structures originates in a corresponding "deeper" match between the behaviors exhibited by the participants in the two event types.
Before proceeding further, I believe it necessary to define now the most important semantic roles I am mentioning in this paper. The following is my own, customized role list, which I composed by eliminating many of those too fine-grained or didactically unnecessary roles that usually find a place into more detailed treatments of this topic. It contains all the roles I use in my graphs and throughout this paper.
Graph 12: List of semantic roles
I am introducing now a series of constructions that the balloon graphs manage to illustrate quite powerfully. The first one is the -te ageru benefactive construction.
Graph 13: Balloon graph of benefactive predicate of giving ageru
The dashed lines connecting two balloons indicate that the markers there displayed are typically used jointly. The first two horizontally joined balloons show how arguments are realized when the predicate refers to the transfer of possession of a physical object between two sentient entities. I represent this event as follows. The entity initiating the dative event bears both agent and source roles, as it acts volitionally and is also the location where the transferred object begins its movement. This object bears the role of p.locatum, since its change of possessor entails a movement between two locations. The third participant is the entity where the p.locatum ends its movement, and I assign to it the role of goal. However, ageru also entails that this entity beneficiates from the transfer. To indicate this I assign it the beneficiary role. Finally, since ageru implies that this third participant acts volitionally in receiving the object (this point is important because it makes all the difference between the verbs of giving on the one hand and the verbs of sending and putting on the other, and also helps to explain the conversivity and case structures of the predicates of giving and receiving.) I assign to it the role of a secondary agent – secondary because this entity is not the initiator of the event but her willied participation is crucial to its successful completion.
However, the object does not need to be an affected physical entity, but can be an act that the agentive source effects in behalf of the beneficiary. As a performance, this object must be expressed by a verb, and there ought to be a way of substituting the accusative NP with a verb or a sentence. The balloon stacked under the o NP balloon shows precisely that the –te form is the morphologic device used to assign a clausal argument to ageru. I consider this argument to be associated with the role of patient rather than p.locatum because it does not represent a transferred physical object.
Our textbook also makes an extensive use of tameni phrases, which are not easily represented by balloon graphs. I explain out their occurrence by saying that a tameni benefactive is only needed when the entity in the beneficiary role is not referred to within the –te sentence. The problem is that, as adjuncts, tameni phrases should be drawn on the extreme right of the graph, but this would mean putting the balloons relating to the one beneficiary in two separated places. Therefore, for the sake of clarity I usually stack the two beneficiary phrases on the left of the object phrases.
Semantic roles labels are particularly useful in Graph 13 as they make help to underscore the fact that these constructions of giving are akin to those of sending and putting and, most important, show that the same set of entities participating in a "giving" event is also involved in the matching "receiving" event described by a conversive predicate of the morau class.
Graph 14: Balloon graph of benefactive predicate of receiving morau
Of Graph 14 I shall discuss here the central balloon stack only. The NPs of this stack refer to a participant that is both the departing location of the patient and the initiator of an event of giving. This entity thus bears both the roles of agent and of source. Predicate morau lets the speaker choose between an ablative case marked by kara when she wants to stress the source role of the giver, and an agentive case marked by ni when she wants to stress that this entity is indeed the initiator of the event and would be the subject of a conversive dative predicate.3
This relation is best captured by a different chart, the "table" graph, which I now introduce for the first time.
Graph 15: Table graph of benefactive verbs of transfer of possession (yarimorai)
In a table graph, the thicker horizontal lines separate the participants involved in the event. Within each major horizontal band, the thinner, dashed lines keep distinct the semantic roles borne by these entities. These roles are listed in the leftmost column. The columns under each predicate (or predicate class) show all its possible constructions, so that constructions are read vertically. They are made by a series of boxes, each displaying one phrase of a given construction. Phrases are identified by their particles and cases. Each boxed phrase correspond to the semantic role that it syntactically realizes.
Table Graph 15 plots together the distinct constructions and alternate argument realizations of the two predicate classes of giving and receiving of balloon Graphs 13 and 14. All tameni adjuncts are omitted, but they can be added at the bottom. Since these verbs of yarimorai actually describe the same event type, the table suggests that the alternate ways they realize their arguments ultimately depend upon the different roles borne by the participants.
The heuristic power of the table graph is also evident in plotting the constructions of non-benefactive conversive predicates pairs of transfer of possession, by which no beneficiary role and –te sentential phrases are selected. Table Graph 16 displays the constructions of conversive pairs osieru/narau and kasu/kariru, whose paired verbs express the same event token.
Graph 16: Table graph of non-benefactive predicate pairs of transfer of possession
Only the two-place construction of osieru displayed in Column (2) is worth of notice here. In this form of multiple argument realization, the former oblique NP of three-argument osieru (1) becomes a direct object. This change of valence is caused by the lexicalization of the direct object of osieru (1), so that the root of osieru (2) entails a transfer of information whose actual contents are not subcategorized. The former oblique thus becomes the only internal argument of the VP, and osieru turns from a triadic into a diadic transitive verb.4 The incorporation of the p.locatum causes osieru (2) to loose information and, possibly, to describe a different event token than (1), so that it cannot be considered to be conversive with respect to osowaru and narau. Why other dative predicates such as kasu do not alternate in this fashion is an interesting problem that deserves further investigation.
Graph 17 is a table plotting the constructions of a transitive/unaccusative pair. In this other example of valence change, the event expressed by the reduced, intransitive verb subsumes that described by its transitive companion.
Graph 17: Table graph of transitive/unaccusative pair akeru/aku ("open")
The de instrumental phrase of (2) can only be filled by an inanimate noun. Its filling role is sometimes labelled as force.
The following are few examples in which the classroom-friendly balloon graph is most powerful, namely the several constructions of aru.
Graph 18: Balloon graph of locative aru
I explain Graph 18 as follows. Locative aru is used to express a location event, i.e. to specify the position of things in space. It requires two arguments. One corresponds to the entity that is represented as being located somewhere, bearing the theme role. This argument, realized as the subject, is marked by the nominative particle ga. The other argument represents the place in which the theme is located. It can be realized by a ni locative if the theme is a concrete object, or by a de locative if the theme is an event. This is therefore one of the alternations caused by a semantic property of the filling nominals rather than by the semantic roles themselves. A simpler similar graph can be drawn for iru.
Graph 19: Balloon graph of possessive aru (iru) (Nihongo kihon doosi yoohoo ziten 1989: 31, 48)
As shown by Graph 19, predicates iru and aru can also be used to express possession. They take two arguments. The first one corresponds to the possessor, an animate entity bearing the role of experiencer and realized as the logical subject (Jespersen 1924). This NP, displayed in the left stack, is marked by a ni oblique case to which the topic marker wa can be added or substituted. The second argument NP, drawn in the middle, corresponds to the possessed entity, which bears the theme role. Its NP is marked by the nominative particle ga.5 This construction can accommodate a third facultative phrase, which I draw on the right side of the graph. This adjunct refers to the place in which the theme is physically located, and is therefore marked by the locative particle ni. This fact suggests that the oblique case assigned to the experiencer's argument NP is a dative rather than another locative. This construction appears to be derived from that of Graph 17 by addition of the experiencer argument.
Graph 20: Balloon graph of identificative aru
Graph 20 depicts the third and last use of aru I explain in my classes. I draw this graph on the blackboard no later than my second lecture, right after explaining that a Japanese sentence is composed by a sequence of noun+particle phrases headed by a verb. My purpose is addressing a heuristic problem which arises in every textbook's Unit One, namely how to morphologically relate the predicates of desu and zya arimasen sentences.
In short, my analysis is based upon singling out the nominal part of the identificative predicate as an independent argument NP, marked by a de particle which I identify as an essive case marker. With the aid of Graph 19 I explain that (I am using here the exact wording I employ in classes): (1) desu sentences are not composed by the ordinary sequence of noun+particle phrases; (2) on the contrary, negative identificative sentences, ending in N+dewa (or zya) arimasen, do follow such a basic pattern; (3) no morphologic relation exists between desu and dewa arimasen, and there is no rule for generating dewa arimasen from desu or vice-versa. (Since Italian students are accustomed to studying languages in which affirmative and negative verb forms are morphologically related, without this "disclaimer" they would be secretly looking for a mechanism for converting desu in dewaarimasen); (4) desu sentences are the result of a two-stage substitution process that consists in first "beheading" a sentence by cutting away its verbal head and rightmost particle, and then in replacing this lost material with a word of the da family; (5) like the other words of this family, desu is not a proper verb but a "dummy verb" (Lyons 1968: 324), a word that exhibits some of the morphologic behavior of a verb but is devoid of meaning. Its only function is restoring the courtesy level and tense of the missing verb. Examples such as Boku wa unagi desu and Wagahai wa neko de aru usually follow. I never use the term copula.
I usually conclude my analysis by adding that the essive de NP realizes here an argument absolutely necessary to the two-place predicate aru, but similar phrases (such as hitori-de) can be found in a number of sentences as adjuncts. I consider this argument to fill the role of manner, for the de phrase defines the subject's "manner of existence", namely the condition under which the identificative event expressed by the verb aru unfolds. In Wagahai wa neko de aru, the condition of neko puts a restraint on the existence (his beliefs, behaviors, ecology) of the subject. It means "I exist as a cat" in the sense of "I exist being subject to the condition of 'cat'".
The following Graph 21 is a graphic representation of the "classic" locative alternation of nuru. I will treat two more examples of alternations before I conclude.
Graph 21: Table graph of nuru's alternation
(1) a 父が壁に赤いペンキを塗った。
(2) a 父が壁を赤いペンキで塗った。
In this alternation more than one role is again required to define the several different ways in which each entity is involved in the event. A table graph plots this differences in roles better than the balloon graph. I usually analyze the single roles of nuru's alternation as follows.
In both (1) and (2), the agent is the entity that initiates the event as its ultimate cause. This entity physically transfers a stuff, the p.locatum (whose physical property of being liquid or soft enough to be spread is important but not relevant here) on to a surface, the concrete, spatial goal of this event. This interacting of roles is captured by the construction plotted in columns (1a) and (1b). Here, the p.locatum is realized by an accusative o phrase and the spatial goal by a translative ni phrase.
In so doing, however, the agent also changes the aspect of the goal, so that this latter entity can also be regarded as the patient of an event of change of state. In it, the stuff that represents the effector or immediate cause of the change is the instrument of the agent's act. In columns (2a) and (2b), a second construction of nuru is plotted which instantiates this additional mode of interaction. The argument representing the patient of the change of state receives accusative case, while the phrase denoting the stuff effecting the change is marked by the instrumental marker de.6
The line at the foot of Graph 20 plots the two akaku adverbials of the (b) sentences. These phrases must be accounted for because they obviously realize an additional (abstract) goal role, namely the new condition assumed by the patient kabe as an effect of the act. This is the only situation in which there might be a need of distinguishing between spatial and abstract goals by labelling the latter as factitive. As shown by the (a) sentences, the quality denoted by the adjective akai is originally a property of the stuff penki, which the act nuru transfers to the wall by way of transferring the penki itself onto it. This shift of heads is syntactically realized by displacing the adjective akai to the adverbial position of (b) and thus changing its function to that of an object predicative complement.
I'm discussing next the alternation exhibited by the verb of searching sagasu. I believe this alternation should be named "locative" too, for one of the alternating arguments expresses the event's physical location.
Graph 22: Table graph of sagasu alternation
In this event, an entity acts within a limited place and affects it by means of displacing its parts or contents in order to get sight of a particular object.7
The animated entity initiating the event is the agent in all three constructions. The object targeted by her search appears only in (1) and (2), realized by an accusative NP. Being unaffected by the agent's search, this entity is the theme. The third participant is the location in which the search takes place. In (1) it is a physical space that bodily contains both agent (wholly or in parts) and patient. It therefore bears the place role, realized by a locative of action. Column (2) shows the situation in which this entity is a "space" only in an abstract sense, being a container of information rather than a physical place of action. Interestingly, the oblique surface marker does not change from (1), but it cannot be considered to be a locative. As the a physical object exploited and possibly manipulated by the agent, this entity is the instrument. Column (3) plots an alternate construction which captures the affectedness of the searched place. This entity is now realized as the predicate's second argument by means of an accusative o NP.
Next is the last example of an alternation, the object alternation of "beat" and "shot" verbs utu.
Graph 23: Table graph of "beat" utu's alternation
The first plotted construction, in Graph 22, is that of "beat" utu, the verb that students always meet during their basic language training.
My explanation proceeds as follows. In (1), utu is a verb of creation, whose object does not exist before the accomplishment of the event it describes but comes into being in the course of the act itself. Construction (1) focuses on the event's initiator, the agent, realized by a nominative NP, and on the entity that embodies the main purpose of her act, the object that she creates. This latter entity bears the patient role, realized by an accusative NP. In (1) a third entity is expressed which is the object that, controlled by the agent, physically puts the letter into being. This entity bears the role of instrument and is referred to by an instrumental adjunct phrase.
In (2), utu merely describes the agent's physical act of hitting a board's keys. The effect of this act, the coming into being of a new entity, if any, is not relevant in this particular event description and no NP referring to a resultative object appears. Instead, this construction focuses on the keyboard as the entity that is most affected by the agent's act. This argument is associated with the patient role and is realized by an accusative NP. In this construction it is also possible to express an immediate cause of the agent' act, standing as an effector of her manipulation of the keyboard. Again, this entity is the instrument and is referred to by an instrumental adjunct phrase.
At this point I sometimes add a discussion of the alternation manifested by utu "shot". This I do for the sake of completeness and because the semantics of this utu nicely contrasts with that of "beat" utu.
Graph 24: Table graph of "shot" utu's alternation
The two constructions of "shot" utu nearly overlap with those of "hit" utu, and the same basic considerations apply. I will discuss here only the differences between the two verbs. Both objects of "shot" utu are affected. A strong affectedness is well evident in (1), which has a telic interpretation in that it entails that the policeman does indeed reach the criminal with a bullet. On the other hand, when the argument realized as the direct object is the less affected instrument, as with the atelic, semelfactive utu of (2), such a sense of achievement is lacking, and the bullet does not necessarily reach its target. This is made evident by the fact that in (2) the entity representing the criminal, the former patient, does not correspond to an argument NP, but, being also the goal in which direction the bullet is shot and where it is supposed to end its run, can be expressed by a translative adjunct phrase.
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