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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    Semantic roles - complex tool is agent or causer ?

    Is agent only suitable for animal entity which acts with volition ? (It is how it is explained in some sources)
    What about mechanic tools (like printer, fridge) and more complex tools with CPU (some sensors, artificial intelligence, like Sophia robot, which acts similar to people).

    Is this correct to assign to this simple tools - causer role, in sentence like: Printer prints new document.
    But for more complex tools assign agent role, in sentence like: Sophia is talking with people.

    Sophia doesn't have volition, but in my opinion it is closer for this noun phrase to be an agent than a causer, what do you think ?

  2. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Semantic roles - complex tool is agent or causer ?

    This is my opinion, which does not reflect the views of most semanticists:

    Firstly, you need not ask the philosophical question of whether Sophia has volition. What counts for me is whether she is considered as having volition by the speaker at the moment of speaking. We often talk about things that don't have volition as though they do. Sometimes I say things like:

    My computer doesn't seem to like this document. It refuses to open it.

    Now, I know my computer doesn't really have agency in the philosophical sense, but my choice of language reveals that when I say this, I must be imagining that it does. So it can definitely be assigned the role of agent. I think it's a natural consequence of creatures that do have minds to tend to attribute minds to other things. In the case of Sophia, this tendency of ours will be much stronger, given that she is designed to have the likeness of a human mind. In fact, most things that can be said about her will probably be said with a consideration of her having agency—it would be almost inappropriate not to. Even the fact that I'm referring to her as she/her demonstrates this.

    Secondly, it doesn't have to be a choice of either agent or causer, as you suggest. Why not define an agent as a kind of causer?

    Again, I'm neither a semanticist nor a grammarian, so be aware that these are just my thoughts as a layman.

  3. Raymott's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Semantic roles - complex tool is agent or causer ?

    I also intuitively think that, in "The hammer hit the nail", the hammer is the agent. But all definitions (of semantic agent) I've checked say that an agent must have volition, and almost all examples seem to nominate a person.

    Nevertheless, Wikipedia says, "For example, in the sentence His energy surprised everyone, His energy is the agent, even though it does not have most of the typical agent-like qualities such as perception, movement, or volition."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_(grammar)

  4. Newbie
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    #4

    Re: Semantic roles - complex tool is agent or causer ?

    Yes, I agree that agent is a kind of causer, in one definition I've found that agent is volitional causer.
    About this example with the computer, I thing this is a kind of metaphor and agent role also suits here
    - George Lakoff presented similar sample in one of his articles, called it metaphor agent.

    This sample with hammer, is some sources can have assigned agent (or proto-agent role, like in Wikipedia),
    when in another sources it will have assigned causer role. In this case I think that causer role is better, because
    hammer is not doer of an action.

  5. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Semantic roles - complex tool is agent or causer ?

    Quote Originally Posted by assasalym View Post
    Yes, I agree that agent is a kind of causer, in one definition I've found that agent is volitional causer.
    Yes, that seems eminently sensible to me.

    About this example with the computer, I thing this is a kind of metaphor and agent role also suits here
    - George Lakoff presented similar sample in one of his articles, called it metaphor agent.
    I too find Lakoff's work on metaphor very interesting.

    This sample with hammer, is some sources can have assigned agent (or proto-agent role, like in Wikipedia),
    when in another sources it will have assigned causer role. In this case I think that causer role is better, because
    hammer is not doer of an action.
    I don't know why we don't just call everything a causer, thereby getting around the problem of agency.

    Regarding the hammer, I'm tempted to take a different view in which the person and the hammer are seen as one system. In this view, it is the whole 'person-hammer' system that is the causer, not one or the other.

  6. Newbie
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    #6

    Re: Semantic roles - complex tool is agent or causer ?

    I found intresting article in which author proposes to not distinguish agent/causer/instrument, but sue name initiator instead:
    http://lingcomm.blogspot.com/2010/12...-subjects.html

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