Semantic roles and word formation

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In functional-typological approaches to syntax the identification of semantic roles and the grammatical markers associated with them has been an important goal. In this paper it is argued that a similar approach to word formation patterns is possible and some criteria for the identification of the semantic roles in the domain of derivational morphology are provided. Agent, Instrument, and Location can be considered as different semantic roles in morphology, but polysemy between two or more of them is also frequent cross-linguistically. Deverbal suffixes employed in Ancient Greek for deriving instrumental and locative nouns are surveyed as a case study. The semantic analysis of the derivative nouns shows that those suffixes are also employed for building other nouns that are semantically related, but cannot be considered Instruments and Locations proper, such as non-prototypical instruments, prizes and rewards, and others. In general, when there is no specific suffix for a semantic role but a noun expressing it needs to be coined, suffixes for neighbouring semantic roles will be employed, depending on the available metaphor or metonymy that allows for the semantic extension. The comparison of these findings to the conceptual organization of grammatical morphemes in the same language (Greek) and in other languages in general reveals that both in syntax and morphology a similar semantic organization is found. However, the number of semantic roles that can be identified in syntax is higher than the number of semantic roles reflected in word formation patterns, so that semantic maps of word formation patterns are similar in shape but more reduced. Keywords: Semantic roles; word formation patterns; nominal morphology; derivation; Instrument; Location; Agent; Ancient Greek; semantic maps


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