TIP of the day: A gentle introduction to case frames

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Fri, Jul 31 2015 1:03 AM


 According to the SIL Glossary transitivity is the number of objects a verb requires or takes in a given instance.

  • intransitive verbs do not take a direct object
  • transitive verbs take a direct object
  • ditransitive (or bitransitive) verbs take a direct object and an indirect object

Some grammatical systems speak only of transitive/intransitive treating ditransitive as a later extension of the concept. Some languages show transitivity in their morphology but that is not true of Greek or Hebrew so Logos does not show us directly if a verb is transitive or intransitive. But from the clause visualizations one can derive the transitivity value of a verb.


The concept of transitivity is expanded in the concept of valence which is concerned with verbal complements.

from Wikipedia:

In linguistics, verb valency or valence refers to the number of arguments controlled by a verbal predicate. It is related, though not identical, to verb transitivity, which counts only object arguments of the verbal predicate. Verb valency, on the other hand, includes all arguments, including the subject of the verb. The linguistic meaning of valence derives from the definition of valency in chemistry.

Standard verbal valence includes:

  • valence 0: impersonal verb with no determinate subject
  • valence 1: intransitive verb with one argument (subject)
  • valence 2: transitive verb with two arguments (subject, object)
  • valence 3: ditransitive (bitransitive) verb with three arguments (subject, object, indirect object)
  • valence 4 (see Wikipedia article).

Note that the arguments are not limited to noun phrases. Thomas Herbst's English Valency Structures - a first sketch is an excellent introduction to valency in English. Again Logos provides no direct information on valency but one can determine it via clause visualizations as one did transitivity.

The SIL linguistic Glossary describes valence in terms that move us closer to case frames:

Semantic Roles and Case Frames

Where transitivity dealt only with objects of the verb and valency dealt only with complements of the verb, semantic roles and case frames deal with all nouns/noun phrases  ruled by the verb. The second distinction is that components are named by their semantic role rather than by grammatical role - as illustrated by the SIL table above where subject is split into agent or patient.

Here Logos gives us direct tagging as shown by the extract from a Bible Word Study on create.

Things to note:

  • the scope of the verb is highlighted in light gray
  • the actual case frame (think of slots to be filled in the scope of the verb) is given as a heading, in this case Agent -- Patient
  • each semantic role is given a specific font color - green font for agent, red font for patient
  • words remaining in black are not assigned a semantic role.

For an excellent discussion of valency, semantic roles and case frames see Paul L. Danove's   Linguistics and Exegesis in the Gospel of Mark: Applications of a Case Frame Analysis and Lexicon "Procedures of Analysis, Description, and Representation"

My hope is that by following the historical broadening of the concept of transitivity which is generally familiar to the unfamiliar concept of case frames, you can recognize the familiar in the latter and more quickly learn how to use it.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Schumitinu | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jul 31 2015 11:32 PM

Here is another way to look at case frames and case roles:

In Semantics we talk about propositions. A proposition is the smallest unit of communication. It roughly relates to a clause in grammar, but not always. Propositions are made up of concepts. A concept is the smallest unit of meaning (in that it refers to something). There are four categories of concepts, or four referential categories: There are Things, Events, Attributes and Relations. Now in order to have a proposition we need at least two or more concepts that are meaningfully combined. And at the heart of a proposition is always the Event concept (roughly a grammatical verb).

Now where do case frames and roles come in? Whenever you have two or more concepts making up a proposition, the concepts stand in a certain relationship to one another. To be more precise, the Thing and Attribute concepts stand in certain relationship to the central Event concept (verb) in the proposition. These we call Relations within a proposition. Just to mention, there are also Relations between propositions. That is, how two or more propositions are related together. In Logos this is somewhat labeled with the Propositional Outline that Logos introduced with L6.

Back to the relations within a proposition, or case roles (in Logos called Semantic Roles, shown in the Clause Participants section of the BWS). The Thing concept in the proposition functions as a participant in relation to the Event. But this participant can play different roles. These roles are labeled and can be found in the Clause Participant section of the BWS. So the roles define in what relationship the Participant stands to the Event. Now depending on the verb it can be in different kinds of relationships with one or more participant (this is what M.J. explained above with Transitivity etc.). These kinds and combinations make up frames. And these frames we find in the Case Frames section of the BWS.

Now we just looked at Event propositions (those communicating an action, experience or process). There are also State propositions. State propositions have no event, but may have what we call stative verbs. Where as in Event propositions we look at the relationship of Event and Participants, in State propositions we look at the relationship between a Topic (Thing) and a Comment (Attribute). Here we call the relationship not Case Role but State Relations. This relationship can be one of ownership, naming, description, ambience, time etc. But I don't think these are labeled within Logos. But maybe in a future release.

To learn more about this see: Introduction to Semantics and Translation, Katharine Barnwell, SIL

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