LINGUIST List 13.1247

Fri May 3 2002

Qs: Phonosemantics, Theta-role Assignment

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  1. Belianine Valeri, phonosemantics
  2. Liang Chen, theta-role assignment

Message 1: phonosemantics

Date: Fri, 3 May 2002 00:00:21 +0400
From: Belianine Valeri <>
Subject: phonosemantics

Hello dear Linguists!

I am a psycholinguist. 

I was dealing with sound symbolism and found out that there is a
theory stating that every letter (and sound) has its meaning.

For example, there are pleasant and unpleasant sounds (for some
national ear). Thus according to some investigations, Russian ZH is
unpleasant while L soft is pleasant (mild). R for Russians is
masculine, rude and energetic, while F is dark, weak and dangerous.

And all the vowels may have some kind of colour. E.g. for Russians A
(as in cup) is red, I (like in film) is blue, E (like in let) is
green, etc. Some computer programs use it for Russian text analysis.

I am involved in a project of making the same in English. I suppose
that this is closely connected with the investigations of Charles

And I thought that some of you may have some data concerning this.

If anyone knows some investigations on the English material, 
please let me know offline.

Val Belianine, 
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Message 2: theta-role assignment

Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 06:43:43 -0700 (PDT)
From: Liang Chen <>
Subject: theta-role assignment

Dear linguists,

One interesting aspect of quantifier float phenomena is that a
quantifier like 'all' cannot be left in postverbal positions and
separated from its modifying NP/DP. Therefore, the sentences in (1)
are all bad.

(1)a. *John hates the students all.
 b. *The students arrived all.
 c. *The students were arrested all.

Bokovic (2001) argues that (1) can be accounted for by the two
independently motivated assumptions in (2).

(2) a. Floating quantifiers are adjoined to the NP/DP they modify.
(Sportiche 1988, Bemounmon 1999)
 b. Adjunction to arguments is prohibited, as it interferes with
theta-role assignment. (Chomsky 1986, who attributes it to Kyle Johnson)

Given (2a), "all" is adjoined to "the student" in its theta-position.
Given (2b), this adjunction interferes with theta-role assignment.

As Boskovic himself observes, (2a-b) seem to have ruled out
Quantifier-float altogether. For example, it appears that even the
good example in (3) is also rule out, since theta-role assginment in
the most embedded Spec VP to "all the student" seems to be blocked by

(3) a. The students seem all to know French.
 b. The students were all arrested.
 c. The students all passed the exam.

To solve the problem, Boskovic adopts yet a third assumption in (4).

(4) Adjuncts can be inserted into the structure acyclically. (Lebeaux
1988, 1991)

Given (2a) and (4), the good example can be derived as follows. Being an
adjunct, "all" can be adjoined to "the students" after "the students"
moves away from the position in which it is theta-marked (i.e., Spec VP).
Subsequently, "the students" moves further to the Specifier of a higher
functional projection (Spec AgrsP).
Now my question is: how to prevent the following derivation for the bad
examples in (1), given the acyclic adjunction of "all"?

(5)a. "the students" is first merged with the verb, and has the theta-role
 b. "all" is then adjoined acyclically to "the students".
 c. "the students" then moves [to Spec AgroP in (1a),Spec AgrsP/IP in
(1b-c)], leaving "all" behind.

A related question is what the consequence of this problem for:

(6)a. The status of "theta-role"
 b. Can adjunction be exempted from the "extension condition"?


All comments are highly appreciated. 
Liang Chen
Department of Linguistics,
University of Connecticut
337 Mansfield Road
Storrs, CT 06269-1145

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