For the purposes of this question, I'm specifically interested in marking theta-roles of verb arguments and possessive constructs, i.e. the things prototypically marked by case in languages that have extensive case systems. Many languages use some combination of word order, case marking, argument indexing on the verb, and explicit adpositions to disambiguate/identify arguments within a clause.

Some languages consistently do not mark certain distinctions like subject vs direct object or between different kinds of objects. Yagua makes no distinction between the non-subject core arguments of ditransitive verbs.

I'm wondering how minimal or ambiguous the morphology/syntax relevant to argument roles in a language can be while still being comprehensible.

  • I think that's a kind of "how long is a piece of string" question. I guess it depends on the semantics: for a toy language or one that is more restricted (eg trade transactions only) it might be easier to avoid misunderstanding than for a general one. Jun 9 '20 at 9:27
  • Could you please explain the term theta role for non-generativists? I tried looking up the phrase but I'm afraid I'm totally lost.
    – Andrew Ray
    Jun 12 '20 at 2:26
  • I was using the term somewhat loosely and probably incorrectly. I just meant some abstract trait that can be used to distinguish different verb arguments. Jun 12 '20 at 2:46

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