LINGUIST List 13.846

Wed Mar 27 2002

Diss: Syntax: Postman "Thematic Role Assignment"

Editor for this issue: Karolina Owczarzak <>


  1. wap2, Syntax: Postman "Thematic Role Assignment in Indonesian"

Message 1: Syntax: Postman "Thematic Role Assignment in Indonesian"

Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 16:29:26 +0000
From: wap2 <>
Subject: Syntax: Postman "Thematic Role Assignment in Indonesian"

New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: Cornell University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: Whitney Anne Postman 

Dissertation Title: 
Thematic Role Assignment in Indonesian: A Case Study of Agrammatic Aphasia

Linguistic Field: 
Syntax, Psycholinguistics, Neurolinguistics, Cognitive Science

Subject Language: 

Dissertation Director 1: Sally McConnell-Ginet 
Dissertation Director 2: John Bowers 
Dissertation Director 3: John Wolff 
Dissertation Director 4: Gita Martohardjono

Dissertation Abstract: 

The linguistic deficits of a man with agrammatic aphasia due to left
hemisphere stroke are investigated by examining his ability to
attribute thematic roles to arguments in Standard Indonesian
('SI'). His performance on two comprehension tasks and one production
task is compared with that of a man with right hemisphere damage but
no aphasia and, in addition, three neurologically intact control
subjects. The participants, all fluent speakers of SI, were tested in
their hometown of Manado, Indonesia, on sentences with one
monotransitive, ditransitive, causative or applicative verb, and on
coordinate and embedded sentences with two monotransitive verbs. For
all sentence types, active verbs are systematically contrasted with
passive verbs.

Two major predictions based on structural complexity are made that may
explain the performance of the patient with agrammatic aphasia. First,
complex constructions in which an entity has more than one role, and
therefore must be related to more than one predicate, should be
more difficult than monoclausal constructions in which each argument
plays a unique role. Second, passive verbs should not be harder than
active verbs because the structure of SI passives is hypothesized to
be essentially simpler than that of passives in previously studied
languages like English and German. SI passives resemble ergative
clauses in related languages like Tagalog in that neither an auxiliary
verb nor demotion of the agent is required. 

This study yielded three important results for this

1. Passive verbs were not harder to compute than active

2. He had more trouble with causative, coordinate and embedded
sentences than with other items. 

3. He usually connected the empty category contained in coordinate
and embedded sentences with an agentive argument. He chose an argument
with the role of agent as antecedent of the empty category, even when
the structure dictated that its antecedent should be the theme
argument. Given the prevalence of theme topic forms in SI discourse,
and the other participants' occasional preference for theme arguments
as pivots, this finding supports a structural explanation of aphasic
deficits that is independent of language-specific properties of
frequency and primacy of certain types of expressions.

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