Talk:Agent (grammar)

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Is an agent a word or a referent?[edit]

In the introduction we have "Jack is the agent" with "Jack" in italics. Because of the fact that we use italics for text units citation not noticing denotata themselves, I think this italicisation shows that an agent is to be A WORD not a denotatum.

Is an agent a word or a denotatum?

If it's a denotatum, the italicisation must be put out. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:21, 24 January 2011 (UTC)

Can someone make a better example?[edit]

I have read this articles three times and still don't understand it. Could somebody write down exactly what a grammatical subject is compared with grammatical agents? (talk) 21:16, 27 August 2016 (UTC)

You have my sympathies. Notice the various disclaimers, "Hard to define..." through the article, and I suggest you read the thematic relation article, which is better written. Two problems with this article: this is not mainstream Chomskyan dogma, and it tends therefore to be overwhelmed, and English does not have anything like explicit marking of agents with respect to verbs, because it has grammatical subjects, which conflate aspects of agency with aspects of theme-rheme disctinction. Japanese, for example (which is why it appears in the article) has particles: ga for agent, and wo (or o) for patient, so that in a sentence involving say an eater (agent) and a food (patient), ga marks the thing eating, and wo marks the thing being eaten. This is distinct from "subject-object", because there is an orthogonal distinction (theme-rheme) between the topic (or theme) of the sentence and the "rheme", or what-is-being-said-about-the-topic. This uses completely different particles, most commonly wa to mark the topic. But without changing the verb, this can mark either the agent or the patient.

For example:

Nezumi-wa (mouse-TOPIC), chiizu-wo (cheese-PATIENT) tabeta (ate) 
"About this mouse: eating happened, and what got eaten was the cheese"
Musuko-wa (my son-TOPIC), tora-ga (tiger-AGENT) tabeta (ate) 
"About my son: eating happened, and what did the eating was tiger"

In English, any marking, such as making something the subject by putting it before the verb, automatically does two things: makes it the "topic" or "theme" -- what the sentence is about -- and also assigns it a particular "thematic relation" (is it the eater? the eatee? a tool used for the eating? etc) which is determined by the particular verb, so it is not possible to separate out these two aspects. So one possible way to understand it is to start by learning a language like Japanese, but this is a Big Job. Does this help? Imaginatorium (talk) 12:05, 28 August 2016 (UTC)