Spatial characteristics of thematic role representation

Academic Article


  • Humans use language to describe actions by mapping the thematic roles of agent (doer of actions) and patient (recipient of actions) on the grammatical categories of subject and object. The extent to which thematic roles can be conceptualized independent of language is not known. If nonlinguistic conceptualization of thematic roles is possible, then representation of these roles would evidence nonlinguistic characteristics. Motivated by observations in an aphasic man, we wished to learn if thematic roles are conceptualized spatially. Normally subjects were asked to draw stick figures depicting the thematic roles of agent and patient. They demonstrated a systematic spatial bias in locating agents to the left of where they located patients. This bias, somewhat mitigated by ordering effects of motor output and auditory input, was brought into clearest focus when subjects depicted thematic roles in a context stripped of surface sentential form. These data imply that, in their nascent form, the thematic roles of agent and patient are spatially represented prior to being projected on grammar. © 1995.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Neuropsychologia  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Chatterjee A; Maher LM; Heilman KM
  • Start Page

  • 643
  • End Page

  • 648
  • Volume

  • 33
  • Issue

  • 5