Can thematic roles leave traces of their places?

Franklin Chang, Kathryn Bock, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


An important question in the study of language production is the nature of the semantic information that speakers use to create syntactic structures. A common answer to this question assumes that thematic roles help to mediate the mapping from messages to syntax. However, research using structural priming has suggested that the construction of syntactic frames may be insensitive to variations in thematic roles within messages (Cognition 35 (1990) 1; Psychological Review 99 (1992) 150). Because these studies involved structural alternations whose syntax covaries with the order of thematic roles, it is difficult to assess any independent contribution that role information may make to the positioning of phrases. In this study, we primed the order of the roles without changing the syntactic structure of the sentences produced, and found that the order of the roles was influenced by the priming manipulation. This implies that thematic roles or the features that differentiate them are active within the mapping between messages and sentence structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-49
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Language production
  • Structural Repetition
  • Syntax
  • Thematic roles


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