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Graduate course on the Theta System, Jan van Eijck, Tanya Reinhart

Speaker: Jan van Eijck Tanya Reinhart
Date: weekly on thursdays
Time: 12:00-15:00
Location: Room 131, Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, Utrecht

The theoretical framework is the Theta System, as developed by Reinhart the last few years. The Theta system (what has been labelled in Chomsky's Principles and Parameters framework 'Theta theory') is the system enabling the interface between the systems of concepts and the computational system syntax (and, via the syntactic representations, with the semantic inference systems).

Along with theoretical research, a further goal of the course is implementation of the system using parsing tools developed by Van Eijck. Students have a choice to (i) pursue the purely theoretical venue, (ii) focus on implementation, or (iii) do both theory and implementation.

The first part (block) of the course is designed as intensive introduction to the basics of the system as explained below. Those students who (also) want to do implementation will get training in (Haskell) programming if they need it.

In the second part we hope to go in depth into some new problems that are not satisfactorily solved yet. Implementation will be used here as an aid to formalization.

Some familiarity with syntax is required. The level presupposed is that of Haegeman's introductory book. Students with no previous background are expected to study this textbook along with the course.

At the first meeting, the option of changing the time of the course to 13.00 or 14.00 will be discussed. Please contact us if your participation hinges on the choice of time, within these slots.

Course Description

The Theta system consists of:

  1. Lexical entries, which are coded concepts, with formal features defining the Thetarelations of verbentries.
  2. A set of arity operations on lexical entries, which may generate new entries, or just new options of realization.
  3. Marking procedures, which 'prepare' a verb entry for syntactic derivations: assign an ACC(usative) feature to the verb in the relevant cases, and determine the merging position of arguments (technically obtained by indices).

After the introduction, the course will focus on problems in areas (a) and (c), with the goal of identifying more verbclasses, and their mapping (merging) conditions.

The basic reading of the course is Reinhart (2002) and parts of Reinhart (2000), listed below. For the introduction, selections from the other items in the bibliography are recommended.


  • Haegeman, L. (1994) Introduction to Government and Binding Theory, 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford UK and Cambridge USA.


  • Reinhart, T. (2000) The theta system: syntactic realization of verbal concepts. OTS working papers. Downloadable at 00.doc
  • Reinhart, T. (2002), The Theta system - an overview, to appear in Theoretical Linguistics. Downloadable at


  • Belletti, A. & L. Rizzi (1988) "Psych Verbs and Theta Theory" Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 6.3, 291-352.
  • Chierchia, G. (1989) "A semantics for unaccusatives and its syntactic consequences", Unpublished ms. Cornell University (University of Milan).
  • Dowty, D. (1989) "On the semantic content of the notion 'thematic role'", in Gennaro Chierchia, B. Partee and R. Turner, eds., Properties, Types and Meaning. Vol 2. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 69-130.
  • Levin B. and M. Rappaport Hovav (1995) Unaccusativity, at the s yntax lexical semantics interface, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Pesetsky, D. (1995) Zero Syntax: Experiencers and Cascades, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass.


  • K. Doets and J. van Eijck. Getting Started with Haskell. First Chapter from `Reasoning, Computation and Representation using Haskell', book manuscript, 2002. Available from
  • P. Hudak, J.Fasel, and J. Peterson. A gentle introduction to Haskell. Technical report, Yale University, 1996. Available from the Haskell homepage:

Please note that this newsitem has been archived, and may contain outdated information or links.