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THEORY: What is an active language (was Re: Active case-marking natlangs)

From:Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg.rhiemeier@...>
Date:Monday, February 5, 2001, 23:33
daniel andreasson <daniel.andreasson@...> writes:

> [quote from BA thesis snipped] > > As you can see, I have a very vague definition of "active". I think the > main thing that distinguishes active langs from ergative and accusative > ones is that there is some kind of semantic reason for marking the S > argument as either A or P. The most common ones being Control vs. non- > control and event vs. state.
I'd say, "event vs. state" is a bit weak. The verb "to fall", for example, clearly refers to an event, but is its subject an A?
> I don't know if my view on things really matters in this discussion > (Marcus doesn't quite agree, having a narrower definition of "active"
Which seems to include the absence of a case system ;-)
> and Matt having a very broad definition (as it seems) and Jörg basing > his definition more on animate vs. inanimate)
Well, I'd rather say it is based on volition, which of course implies animacy. But a non-volitional animate is still a P (or an INST, or whatever) and not an A, at least as far I understand it. An inanimate entity, in my personal model, can NEVER be an A, though. But I am not so strict so say that anything that doesn't strictly adhere to this model is not active. Hence, I call languages where this holds "strictly active", while "active" alone leaves some leeway for things that are not allowed in a "strictly active" language, e.g. treating an inanimate subject of an active verb (as in the sentence "The stone breaks the window") as an A. I am not sure by myself where to draw the line between "active" and a more general "split-S". But one thing is certain: it doesn't matter whether the language uses cases or verb agreement marking to distinguish A and P. If one says "No, this is not active; the examples you gave are simply unergative verbs/irregular forms/whatever" merely because the language marks nouns for case, I cannot take that seriously.
> but at least you know what > I think about active langs (at least for the moment, my view changes all > the time).
So does mine.
> Comments?
Heck, I don't really care whether a particular language is active or not under theory XY. Every language has a somewhat different system. And I have seen languages being labeled "active" where I asked, "Why?", and others labeled "not active", where I asked, "Why not?" And when I designed Nur-ellen, I didn't knew that there is a linguistic term for such a system. It just sprang to my mind ans I liked it; hence I just did it because it felt right to me. Jörg.