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Re: Unaccusative vs unergative ...

From:And Rosta <a.rosta@...>
Date:Thursday, April 19, 2001, 19:33
> Muke Tever wrote:
> > I suppose the 'unergative' is so called because it appears in accusative or > > active languages only, and not in ergative ones? > > No, it's more warped than that. In some traditions, verbs like "sink" are > called "ergative verbs" because the subject of the intransitive variant ("The > ship sank") patterns with the object of the transitive variant ("John sank the > ship"). "Unergative verbs" are so called because they're the opposite of > ergative verbs. > > However, in most traditions the term "ergative verb" was avoided > because of the > potential for confusion with other senses of the word "ergative", and so a > different term had to be invented. Since the opposite of "ergative" is > "accusative" (subject of intransitive patterns with subject of transitive), it > follows that verbs which are ergative are also "unaccusative". Thus was > launched one of the most bizarre terminological conventions in linguistics.
This is a helpful rationalization of the terminology, but not, I think, historically accurate, since "unaccusative"/"unergative" date back to Perlmutter & Postal's early Relational Grammar work (early 70s), while "ergative" in the sense you discuss is due to Luigi Burzio (early 80s), who (re)introduced the unaccusative hypothesis to GB theory but changed the terminology (which then became a de facto standard for a while). I can't remember how Perlmutter (& Postal?) justified the "unaccusative"/ "unergative" terminology [indeed, I vaguely recall that the key pages are missing from my copy of the original BLS article]. Burzio's term was annoying for various reasons, but it is at least easier to grock. One of Pullum's NLLT essays discusses this topic. It was probably included in _The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax_ book. --And.