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Re: Ergativity

From:Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>
Date:Friday, August 8, 2003, 8:37
Quoting Phillip Driscoll <phild@...>:

> > Thomas R. Wier trwier@UCHICAGO.EDU wrote: > > > > Rob Haden wrote: > > > I'm sorry but I don't see how my second example sentence is > > > intransitive. To me, it still implies a direct object. But I think > > > that's due more to the verb involved ('eat'). > > > > Semantics have no (direct) effect on transitivity. Take the English > > triplet "dine", "eat", and "devour". In each case, there is some notional > > entity being eaten, but each verb has different syntax from the other > > two. "Dine" in always intransitive: *"I dined the food". "Eat" is > > optionally intransitive: "I ate the food" ~ "I ate". "Devour" is > > always transitive: *"I devoured". The test of transitivity is a word's > > behavior in syntax (adjusting for the possibility of elision); there > > is no Platonic "transitivity" floating in grammatical space here. > > This seems to be the widely held definition of intransitivity, but > there are some problems with it. Consider the sentences > > 1. Robert cooked the rice. > 2. Robert cooked. > 3. The rice cooked. > > Sentence 1 is clearly transitive; sentence 3 is intransitive. > By your definition, sentence 2 is intransitive, but clearly the > subject in sentence 2 underwent an experience not substantially > different from the subject of sentence 1. In both sentences, > Robert is an agent. > > On the other hand, the subject in sentence 3 underwent an > entirely different experience, akin to the experience of the direct > object in sentence 1.
I don't think the issue is with the definition of transitivity, but with the funky behaviour of this particular English verb. Note that (2) is ambiguous - it can mean either that Robert is cooking something, or that something is cooking Robert. It seems to me the easiest to say we've simply got two verbs "to cook" here, one a causative, one an intransitive. Andreas