Category Archives: Beatrice Santorini

Semantic vs. Syntactic Arguments

In a previous post, playing the role of a would-be ordinary-language philosopher working in Tagalog (which language, to the the total consternation and perplexity of the Spanish grammarians during the 1600s, lacks the verb ‘to be’), I tried to provoke the suspicion that there is no single relation IS that could be pictured as follows:

IS (0)
THING PROPERTY
NUMBER( NAME(‘3’) ) PROPERTY( NAME(‘Prime’) )
CAR( NAME(‘Car With Serial Number 1235813’) ) PROPERTY( NAME(‘Red’) )
FLOWER( NAME (‘Rose With Barcode 3185321’) ) PROPERTY( NAME(‘Beautiful’) )
MINERAL_ITEM( NAME(‘Grain Of Salt Mentioned By Hegel’) ) PROPERTY( NAME(‘Cubical’) )
MINERAL_ITEM( NAME(‘Grain Of Salt Mentioned By Hegel’) ) PROPERTY( NAME(‘White’) )

Contra John Duns Scotus, for example, there is no single relation ‘contracts’ holding between a universal existing as always-already contracted into a particular. (To back up for a moment, the property denoted by NAME(‘three-sided’)is the universal denoted by NAME(‘three-sidedness’)existing as already contracted into a particular triangle.) Nor is there any other single relation which we can identify with the verb ‘is’. Or … letting my Tagalog ordinary-language suspicions run wild for the moment … so I will suppose.

There is no semantic relation (we are supposing) between the particular thing and the particular property.  But there is a syntactic relation between two names, pictured as follows;

IS (0)
THING PROPERTY
NAME(‘3’) NAME(‘Prime’)
NAME(‘Car With Serial Number 1235813’) NAME(‘Red’)
NAME(‘Rose With Barcode 3185321’) NAME(‘Beautiful’)
NAME(‘Grain Of Salt Mentioned By Hegel’) NAME(‘Cubical’)
NAME(‘Grain Of Salt Mentioned By Hegel’) NAME(‘White’)

Voila:  here is the distinction between semantic vs. syntactical arguments to a verb aka predicate that puzzled me in an earlier post.  NAME(‘3’) and NAME(‘Prime’) are syntactic predicates to the verb/predicate ‘is’.  NUMBER( NAME(‘3’) ) and PROPERTY( NAME(‘Prime’) ) are the semantic predicates to the verb ‘is’ — or would be if there were such a verb ‘is’ that took semantic arguments.

In the spirit of ‘let’s see how long I can get away with this’, let me propose the following chain of events for verbs such as eats that do take semantic arguments.  Consider a relation like the one pictured here:

EATS (0)
NAME_OF_PERSON_EATING NAME_OF_FOOD_ITEM_BEING_EATEN
NAME(‘Joe’) NAME(‘This egg’)
NAME(‘Khadija’) NAME(‘This souffle’)
NAME(‘Juan’) NAME(‘This fajita’)
NAME(‘Kha’) NAME(‘This bowl of Pho’)
NAME(‘Cliff’) NAME(‘This plate of Thai food with a 5-star Thai-spicy rating’)

When used in ordinary discourse, rather than mentioned as sentences with whatever syntactic properties, these tuples with their syntactic arguments get transformed into the following tuples with their semantic arguments:

EATS (0)
PERSON_EATING FOOD_ITEM_BEING_EATEN
PERSON( NAME(‘Joe’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This egg’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Khadija’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This souffle’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Juan’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This fajita’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Kha’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This bowl of Pho’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Cliff’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This plate of Thai food with a 5-star Thai-spicy rating’) )

If we think of the intransitive and transitive verbs ‘eats’ as really being the same verb on the semantic level (though it is not clear to me that they are the same), ‘Joe eats’ would be ‘Joe eats something’.  We can derive the corresponding tuple from  the EATS relation first by projecting on the attribute PERSON_EATING:

EATS(1)
PERSON_EATING FOOD_ITEM_EATEN
PERSON( NAME(‘Joe’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This egg’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Khadija’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This souffle’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Juan’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This fajita’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Kha’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This bowl of Pho’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Cliff’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This plate of Thai food with a 5-star Thai-spicy rating’) )

Then by doing a RESTRICT on Joe:

EATS(2)
PERSON_EATING FOOD_ITEM_EATEN
PERSON( NAME(‘Joe’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This egg’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Khadija’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This souffle’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Juan’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This fajita’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Kha’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This bowl of Pho’) )
PERSON( NAME(‘Cliff’) ) FOOD_ITEM( NAME(‘This plate of Thai food with a 5-star Thai-spicy rating’) )

The existence of verbs that are sometimes transitive, sometimes intransitive  is what motivated Santorini’s distinction between semantic and syntactic arguments to a verb.

Although I have labored over making this distinction for an embarrassing amount of time, it becomes quite easy to make once one has the notion of a SELECTOR available as a conceptual tool.

I’d like to mention as a final note that possibly we should think of the arguments of eats as always already nested inside the selectors PERSON and FOOD_ITEM; in other words, the names are always transparent, so to speak, letting us see through them the persons and food items, the semantic arguments, named.  It is only under special circumstances — say when the transparent denoting function of the sentence breaks down … maybe one has been staring at the sentence for too long — that the selectors PERSON and FOOD_ITEM get stripped away and we see the names, the syntactic arguments, doing the denoting.  (The sentences always seem to be breaking down this way for C.J. Date in his article “SOME OPERATORS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS” in his LOGIC AND DATABASES:  THE ROOTS OF RELATIONAL THEORY.  I get the funny feeling that for him a sentence or expression functions normally at first, but when he stares at it too long it suddenly loses its transparency and becomes an opaque relation between names.  See pages 42 and 45, and see if you get the same impression.)  This final note has been brought to you by the balefully compromised spirit of Martin Heidegger, which was nagging me as I wrote the above.

And now, in the spirit of Plato’s SYMPOSIUM, I would like to picture something a little less dry than the pictures of Relations shown above.  Today it is Kellan Lutz who is serving as my stepping stone, first, to the Relational Algebra, then, finally, to the form of Beauty itself:

Kellan_Lutz

(Rapturous sigh.  How can one live in this world when there is so much beauty in it?)

Update 12/16/2012:  Corrected some errors in the names of some of the Relations; tried to improve the flow of the writing.

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Selectors And Semantic vs. Syntactic Arguments

In case anyone wonders (“feel free to come to the point when you finally decide what it is”), the point of the following ramblings is to arrive at a place where I can make a distinction between semantic arguments and syntactic arguments.  The point of making this distinction will become clear (or not) in a later post.  Making the distinction is part of my attempting to put in my own words the argument that Tagalog lacks a subject.

In the previous post, I argued (or claimed, or made the completely unsupported, nay, spurious assertion, as the case may be) that the semantics of Maganda si Robert Pattinson can also be given by the following statement in the database language Tutorial D:

GORGEOUS_EQUALS_GORGEOUS{THIS_ONE, THAT_ONE} where THIS_ONE = PERSON(NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’))

This statement includes the Selector PERSON(NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’)).  Let me unpack a bit what this is. Before I start, I’d like to point out that I THINK that it is  legal in Tutorial D to nest one selector inside another…

NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’) is a operator or function that takes the string ‘Robert Pattinson’ and selects one and only one name.  I will take the concept ‘selects’ as primitive here.  Any implementation of this selector in a physical computer would involve shuffling around ones and zeros until the computer spits out, i.e., returns, one member of the set NAME.  NAME would include strings, but subject to certain limitations.  For example, I assume a  name would have to be, at least, less than 1 billion characters long.  NAME would also include more than strings (that is, representations of text):  a name can be selected by a sound.  So NAME(<<some representation of a sound>>) could also select the name Robert Pattinson. (The reader will notice that I have not yet decided on how to represent, in the absence of a formal selector, a name as opposed to a string as opposed to the person himself…)

PERSON(NAME(Robert Pattinson)) would take the name selected by NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’) and return a member of the set PERSONS, i.e., Robert Pattinson himself.  I don’t know how a computer would implement this operator, but a human being would be implementing that operator in the following type of circumstance:  say, I am sitting in a restaurant.  Someone in the table next to me says:

 I hereby officially declare myself to belong to Team Edward because Robert Pattinson is just too gorgeous.

One part of that utterance, the part that I hear as the word ‘Robert Pattinson’, is the end point of a long causal chain that begins, say, when the parents of Robert Pattinson, after endless wrangling and indecision, finally agree to call their baby ‘Robert’; the doctor in the Maternity Ward crosses out the ‘baby boy’ in ‘baby boy Pattinson’ and writes in  ‘Robert’ on the birth certificate (call this the ‘baptismal event’) … endless events … a director or producer chooses the person named by ‘Robert Pattinson’ to play Edward Cullen in TWILIGHT … endless events…the person sitting at the table next to me sees TWILIGHT…he reads in a magazine he buys at the supermarket that Robert Pattinson played the part of Edward Cullen…he emits a set of soundwaves at the table next to me, which in turn trigger God-only-knows what processes in my brain, until I hear ‘…Robert Pattinson….’  That entire causal chain, ending up in the wetware of my brain, selects the person Robert Pattinson.  THAT’s the implementation of the selector PERSON(NAME(<<some representation of certain sound waves>>)).  Speaking metaphorically and a bit picturesquely, the selector spits out, or returns, Robert Pattinson himself, the flesh-and-blood Robert Pattinson who lives in (I would say ‘Valencia, California’, but that is where Taylor Lautner lives)…. Speaking literally, the selector selects Robert Pattinson himself.

(See Saul Kripke, who apparently never explicitly endorsed this causal theory of reference aka selection.  Gareth Evans would apparently deem this theory, as stated by me, to be naive, but it seems perfectly intuitive to me.)

Invocations of selectors produce literals (more accurately, I guess, are literals).  So whatever else Robert Pattinson himself may be, he is a literal value.

Let me take the liberty of allowing selector invocations as arguments supplied to the parameters of functions, so that we can replace x with the argument PERSON(NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’)) in the function x EQUALS x to produce a true proposition.  Below, I have identified, ala Chisholm, propositions with states of affairs in the world:  here, with Robert Pattinson being identical with Robert Pattinson.  This proposition gives us the semantics of the utterance “Robert Pattinson equals Robert Pattinson.”

I will therefore call the invocation of PERSON(NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’)) a semantic argument.  By contrast, the invocation of NAME(‘Robert Pattinson’), occuring inside an utterance, spoken or written, is a syntactic argument.  In this way, I make sense of the semantic arguments vs. syntactic arguments distinction I puzzled over in a previous post.

I do not know, of course, whether this is the distinction that Beatrice Santorini wanted to make.

I will end by making another homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM, according to which interest in Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Kellan Lutz et al ultimately leads to interest in the Relational Algebra, and from there, to the Form of Beauty itself:

Robert_Pattinson_2

Wow, I love that slightly-unshaven look…(the reader may  hear a rapturous sigh…)

Now, having briefly lapsed into a lower form of eros, I will go back to eros for the Relational Algebra in connection with Semantics….

Update:  After hitting the publish button, I saw this quote from the first Jewish Prime Minister of Great Britain:

The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.

Benjamin Disraeli

Or blog about it at length.


And One More Thing Before I Move On

It seems to me Kroch’s and Santorini’s rendition of this function:

(1)     [[ invite ]] = { Chris Andrew T ) ,
  David Andrew T ) ,
  Eddie Andrew F ) ,
  Chris Brian F ) ,
  David Brian F ) ,
  Eddie Brian T ) }

is off, since in a function the first entity in a given ordered pair can be mapped to one and only one entity.

Shouldn’t the function be represented this way:

(2)     [[ invite ]] = { Chris { ( Andrew T ) , ( Brian F ) , . . . }
  David Andrew T ) , ( Brian F ) , . . . }
  Eddie Andrew F ) , ( Brian T ) , . . . }
}                  

?

Or am I missing something obvious?


The Predicate As A Truth Valued Function

So far we have been modeling sentences in which nothing is left unspecified.  Chris invites AndrewLukas laughs.  How could we model, however, sentences such as Chris invited someone, Someone invited Andrew, Someone invited someone, Joe ate something, Someone laughed … sentences in which at least one of the “central participants in a situation” is left unspecified?  We can model these sentences, I think, by applying the Relational Algebra to them — or, more precisely, to the propositions that underlie them.  In this post, I start laying the groundwork for showing how we can use the Relational Algebra to model sentences containing ‘someone’, ‘anyone’, and the like.

Let me begin by outlining the key premise behind Relational Database Theory: 

Predicates generate propositions which are either true or false.  A given Database Relation comprises all and only the true propositions generated by a given predicate.  (This is the Closed World Assumption.)  We can apply various operations of the Relational Algebra to the propositions contained in a Database Relation.

The key premise in Relational Database Theory talks about predicates.  What, then, is a predicate?

What the database theorist C.J. Date calls a predicate is what Kroch and Santorini call, in the primer on Chomskyan linguistics quoted from in the post below (The Verb Considered As A Function) a verb.  Date explains what a predicate is better than I can, so let him speak (LOGIC AND DATABASES THE ROOTS OF RELATIONAL THEORY, Trafford Publishing, Canada, 2007, p. 11):
 

A predicate in logic is a truth valued function.

In other words, a predicate is a function that, when invoked, returns a truth value.  Like all functions, it has a set of parameters; when it’s invoked, arguments are substituted for the parameters; substituting arguments for the parameters effectively converts the predicate into a proposition; and we say the arguments satisfy the predicate if and only if that proposition is true.  For example, the argument the sun satisfies the predicate “x is a star,” while the argument the moon does not. 

Let’s look at another example:

x is further away than y

This predicate involves two parameters, x and y.  Substituting arguments the sun for x and the moon for y yields a true proposition; substituting arguments the moon for x and the sun for y yields a false one. 
 

The key premise mentions Database Relations.  What, then, is a Database Relation?

The concept of a Database Relation is an elaboration on the concept of a Relation as defined in mathematics.  In mathematics, a Relation is defined as the subset of the Cartesian Product of two or more sets.  (What a Cartesian Product is will be obvious from the example.)  For example, in the sets {John, Charles, Cliff, Dan} and {Leon Trotsky, Genghis Khan}, the Cartesian Product is { (John; Leon Trotsky), (John; Genghis Khan), (Charles; Leon Trotsky), (Charles; Genghis Khan), (Cliff; Leon Trotsky), (Cliff; Genghis Khan), (Dan; Leon Trotsky), (Dan; Genghis Khan)}.  If, now, we pick out a subset of this Cartesian Product by seeing who happens to be standing to the left of whom at the moment, we get this Relation:  { (Charles; Genghis Khan), (Cliff; Genghis Khan), (Dan; Leon Trotsky)}. 

In other words, our Relation is what we get when we start with the predicate:

x is standing to the left of y

and plug in values for x from the set {John, Charles, Cliff, Dan} and values for y {Leon Trotsky, Genghis Khan}, throw away all the false propositions that result, and keep all of the true propositions.

Let me go out on a limb, then, and say that a proposition (remember, our key premise mentions propositions) is a tuple, that is to say, an ordered pair (for example, (Charles, Genghis Khan) ) in a Relation.  (Please, pretty please, don’t saw this limb off.) 

This means then that a proposition is a state of affairs ala R.M. Chisholm.  For example, the proposition Charles is standing to the left of Genghis Khan is the state of affairs comprising the flesh and blood Charles standing to the left of the flesh and blood Genghis Khan.  Propositions as states of affairs are the meaning of sentences… But I digress.

Back to Relations. 

A Database Relation, I have said, is an elaboration of a Mathematical Relation.  A Database Relation comprises a Heading consisting of ordered pairs of (Name Of Type; Type) and a Body consisting in a set of ordered pairs (Name Of Type, Value).  A type is a set, for example, the set of integers, the set of words in a given language, the set of people, the set of cities in the world, and so on.  A value of a type is a member of the set identical with that type.  I will leave name undefined. 

A Database Relation is an abstract object;  it is either an object really existing in some Platonic Heaven someplace or it is a fiction, depending upon which theory of abstract objects is the correct one.  Database Relations form the conceptual skeleton of databases concretely implemented by an RDBMS (Relational Database Management System) functioning inside a physical computer, but at least at the moment I am not talking about physical computers and the software they run.  I am talking about the abstract object, something that has the same status as the number 3 or the isoceles triangle. 

Why do I want to talk about Database Relations rather than Mathematical Relations?  It will be easier in the  posts that (hopefully) will follow to illustrate the Relational Algebra operations Projection and Restriction.  I know how to apply these operations to Database Relations; I am not sure how to apply them to Relations simpliciter.   Projection and Restriction are the Relational Algebra operations which, I claim, will give us a model for sentences such as Joe ate something. 

I’ve laid the groundwork for such a model; now let me go on to produce the model.


The Verb Considered As A Function

From Kroch’s and Santorini’s Syntax of Natural Language:

I embraced the summer dawn

 From the point of view of a simple formal semantics, the verb laugh is a function from entities to truth values, as illustrated in (1). Entities that laugh are associated with the value T(rue); entities that don’t with the value F(alse). In the world described in (1), Beatrice, Gary, Lukas, and Tina laugh, and Chris and Eva don’t.

By convention, entities are indicated by boldface, sets are enclosed in curly brackets, and ordered pairs are enclosed in angle brackets. It is also conventional to indicate denotations of expressions by enclosing the expressions in special square brackets. These special brackets are not part of the HTML character set, so we use two ordinary square brackets instead.
(1) [[ laugh ]] = { Beatrice T,
Chris F,
Eva F,
Gary T,
Lukas T,
Tina T }

Laugh can combine with a single argument, which denotes an entity. Intuitively, we can think of arguments as the central participants in a situation. Combining laugh with an argument (say, Lukas) has a syntactic effect and a corresponding semantic effect. The syntactic effect is to yield the sentence in (2a). (For simplicity, we disregard the past tense morpheme -ed here and in what follows.) The corresponding semantic effect is to apply the function in (1) to the argument; that is, to select the entity denoted by the argument in the function in (1) and to return the associated value. In the example at hand, the sentence comes out as true, as shown in (2b).

(2) a. Lukas laughed.
b. T

On the other hand, combining Chris with laughed yields Chris laughed with a truth value of F.

In addition to denoting simple functions, verbs can also denote recursive functions. For instance, a transitive verb denotes a function from entities to a second function, the latter of the same type as just described for the intransitive verb laugh (a function from entities to truth values). So the transitive verb invite might denote the function in (3).

(3) [[ invite ]] = { Chris Andrew T ) ,
David Andrew T ) ,
Eddie Andrew F ) ,
Chris Brian F ) ,
David Brian F ) ,
Eddie Brian T ) }

Combining invite with a theme argument (say, David) has the syntactic effect of yielding the phrase in (4a). As before, the corresponding semantic effect is to select the entity denoted by the argument in (3) and to return the associated values, as shown in (4b).

(4) a. invited David
b. [[ invited David ]] = { Andrew T ) ,
Brian F ) }

Further combining invited David with an agent argument (say, Andrew) yields the sentence in (5a) and the truth value in (5b). This second step in the derivation of a transitive sentence is exactly equivalent to the first and only step that is necessary in an intransitive sentence.

(5) a. Andrew invited David.
b. [[ Andrew invited David ]] = T

It is important to understand that the order of the arguments in (3) reflects derivational order (the order in which the arguments combine structurally), not their superficial linear order. Given purely semantic considerations, it is equally easy to write functions in which derivational order is congruent with linear order, and you are asked to do so in Exercise 3.1.

Verbs like laugh and invite are instances of one-place and two-place predicates, respectively. The term predicate here refers to a vocabulary item, with a focus on its capacity to combine with one or more arguments. The number of arguments that a predicate requires is its semantic valency.

If truth in hearts that perish

This simple formal semantics is a model of the verb laughs employing abstract objects such as functions, sets, denotations, truth values.  As a function, laughs associates, or is an association of, concrete, flesh-and-blood entity such as Chris or Lukas, with one or another of the abstract objects (T)rue or (F)alse.  Laughs has a parameter which can accept an argument (to use Date’s terminology); or to use the authors’ terminology, laughs can combine with an argument.  When combined with the name Lukas, the function laughs gets applied to the flesh-and-blood Lukas — that is to say, it selects this flesh-and-blood creature — and returns (T)rue.

If one is a Platonist they may be content with treating all the abstract objects mentioned here as existing and non-fictional:  functions and truth values exist as abstract, non-material objects just as abstract objects as the perfect triangle or the perfect square do.  If one is not a Platonist, he may still be content picturing all of these objects as if they existed, and hold out for the hope that there is, or will be, a way of treating all of these as fictions.

When considered as something that can accept (or ‘combine with’) arguments, a function is an abstract machine:  it accepts an input (the name Lukas), performs an ‘applies’ or ‘selects’ operation, and generates an output (here the truth value (T)rue).  The applying and selecting are abstract; that is, no particular, concrete operation is getting specified.  And I suppose this is how one produces an abstract operation:  name an operation, but omit any concrete implementation of that operation. 

Even the Platonist in me, however,  has some difficulty with the notion of abstract operations such as ‘applies’ and ‘selects’.  Tortured by a bee buzzing around in his bonnet, my inner Platonist feels compelled to utilize something like Plato’s Demiurge in the Timaeus to picture these operations.  Instead of Plato’s divine craftsman who shapes the world guided by his vision of the Forms, this Demiurge has something of a lower-level task of taking the string (or sounds, or hand-signals, or whatever) embodying the name Lukas, searching through the entities bearing that name (somehow the Demiurge has no problems with ambiguity), selecting one, seeing that this entity is indeed laughing, and returning a truth value.

This image of a Demiurge selecting entities and applying functions to them would have equal value for the Platonist and the fictionalist, at least if the Platonist hews to Plato.  For Plato regarded regarded his Forms (abstract objects) as real, but his Demiurge as just a myth, just a picture…in other words, a fiction. Likewise, our Demiurge, our all-seeing, untroubled-by-ambiguity selector of entities, is just a picture, a creature existing only in the realm of ‘as if’.  We need this picture as a psychological crutch to make up for that lack of any concrete implementation of the abstract operations which gets the bee in our bonnet buzzing. 

One side-note:  Santorini and Kroch have the function laughs returning both a truth value and a phrase (Lukas laughed).  But isn’t a function supposed to always return just a single value?


Semantic Vs. Syntactic Arguments, Their Real Or Alleged Distinction

When John runs, he is, whatever else he is doing, transferring energy to the ground beneath him.  But when we say ‘John runs’, it never seems to matter to us what is happening to the ground.  We are just interested in John’s running.  So ‘runs’ in ‘John runs’ is a one-place relation.  John is the sole “central participant” in the situation comprising his running, at least when … (see below).  RUNS(John).

When Joe eats, or Satish reads, sometimes all that matters to us is that Joe is eating, or that Satish is reading.  In that case, the corresponding relations are the one-place relations given by EATS(Joe) and READS(Satish).  But sometimes it does matter to us what Joe is eating, or what Satish is reading.   In that case, different relations come into play, namely, the two-place relations given by EATS(Joe, salmon fillet with barcode 1123581321) (why I impishly specify the barcode may or may not become clear in later posts; it is something dba-related), READS(Satish, Die Phaenomenologie Des Geistes).  What Joe is eating matters to us at the moment because he is discussing his plan to lose weight; what Satish is reading matters because we know that, given what he is reading, the wiring in his brain is in danger of becoming a tangled mess.  Likewise, sometimes it matters to use where John is running to.  John is running to a place where the tiger chasing him cannot easily turn him into a meal.  RUNS(John, place where the tiger cannot reach him, identified by GPS coordinates 95°23’29″W, 29°48’27″N).

So EATS is not a single verb, because it sometimes names a one-place relation, and sometimes a two-place relations.  Ditto READS and RUNS.

In Chapter 3, Some basic linguistic relations chapter, of their The syntax of natural language:  An online introduction using the Trees program Beatrice Santorini and Anthony Kroch distinguish between semantic arguments and syntactic arguments in an attempt to explain why these verbs sometimes take just one argument, sometimes two.   Semantic arguments are the “central participants in a situation.”  This is at least intuitively clear to me.

Syntactic arguments are…well, I am really  not clear what a syntactic argument is supposed to be.  “Syntactic arguments, on the other hand, are constituents that appear in particular syntactic positions (see Chapter 4 for further discussion)”, say Santorini and Kroch.  Doubtlessly what a syntactic argument is as distinct from a semantic argument will be completely clear to me, in fact, as obvious as dust, when I have digested Chapter 4, and everything I am saying now will become clearly beside the point.  But at the moment, I do not know what a syntactic argument is.

So for now, I will explain the ‘sometimes takes one argument, sometimes takes two arguments’ character of RUNS, EATS, and READS by claiming that EATS, for example, sometimes names a two-place relation and sometimes a one-place relation, depending upon the context.  EATS, RUNS, READS are ambiguous.

I am throwing this explanation up into the air, with the intention of seeing how long or how short a time it takes for it to get shot down by someone with a better grasp of linguistics.  Again, I am writing to learn.

Santorini and Kroch seem to think that, for example, EATS is a relation existing purely objectively, independently of contexts determined by what matters to us.  If I try to specify as completely as I can what eating comprises, I will include the fact there is an eater as well as food that goes into the eater’s alimentary system.  “eat denotes a relation between eaters and food.”  On the other hand, my attempt at a complete specification of what running comprises would include the fact that there is a runner as well as energy that the runner is transmitting to the ground.  Should I then say ‘runs denotes a relation between a runner and the ground’?  No, because what counts as a ‘central participant in a situation’ depends upon what matters to us, not on an exhaustive description of the situation by some perspectiveless, omniscient being for whom all aspects are equally important.  No mattering, no centrality.  No mattering, no relations named by verbs.  Different aspects of a situation that matter at a given time, different relations named by the same word, e.g., EATS, RUNS, READS.

That EATS, for example, may name different relations depending on the number of arguments it takes may get obscured a bit by the fact the flow of conversation can easily turn, at any moment, towards the topic of what Joe is eating.   That something is getting eaten is always very close to the surface when we say “Joe eats”, especially given that the flow of conversation can at any moment very easily turn towards the topic of what Joe is eating. It can easily become something that matters to us, requiring a different relation.   On the other hand, the flow of conversation never seems in danger of turning towards the energy that the ground is receiving when John runs.  So we never seem to need RUNS to name, in addition to RUNS(actor) and RUNS(actor, goal), the additional relation RUNS(actor, object getting transformed by receiving energy, goal).  Contrast this to THROWS, where what gets transformed by the reception of the throwing energy does usually matter to us.  THROWS( Travis, ball with barcode 1235, Tinh).  Travis throws the ball to Tinh.