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Trigger Systems (was Re: Book on constructive linguistics)

From:David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>
Date:Monday, September 25, 2006, 18:41
I decided to take a look at the conlang wikibook, and came across
an article about trigger systems.  I wrote a post on the discussion
page about how I don't believe they actually exist in natural
at least, not as they exist in people's conlangs (such as my own, X).
This is the post:

Not meaning to rock the boat, but trigger systems, as they're
explained here, don't actually exist in natural languages. I think
they only exist as conlangs, actually (I have one too). The trigger
systems of Austronesia don't actually seem to be anything more than
languages with multiple passive formation and applicativization
strategies. The "trigger" isn't actually unmarked, it's simply in the
case that the subject of an intransitive verb is put into. The
morphology doesn't mark the role of the verb, per se, but merely
marks what role the new subject played in the "underived" sentence.
It would be something like the following:


Direct Object Passive: I ate a hamburger. -> A hamburger eat-PASS1 by
Indirect Object Passive: I gave you a flower. -> You give-PASS2 a
flower by me.
Prepositional Object Passive: I walked into a store. -> A store walk-
PASS3 by me. (Prepositional information lost.)
As it so happens, the form of the passive is the same for all three
in English. They could very well be different, to give the hearer
more information about the role of the subject (since its case is
invariant). If you add in applicatives, which English doesn't have,
you have a wealth of verbal morphology that tells what the role of
the subject is.

So, the "trigger" actually is the syntactic subject--just the way the
raised patient of a passive is the subject of the sentence. And these
languages do have passive morphology--extensive passive morphology.
The notion of the "trigger" language, then, is something exclusive to

For example, one could create a language like the following:

Verb: maka "eat"
Subject Trigger: makana
Object Trigger: makasi
Indirect Object Trigger: makalo
Genitive Trigger: makava
Adessive Trigger: makawe
Allative Trigger: makatu
Abessive Trigger: makaje
Ablative Trigger: makazo
Inessive Trigger: makapi
Illative Trigger: makaha

In other words, a language with a whole bunch of cases that are
simply marked on the verb, and in order to use one of these cases,
the case must be used with the subject of the verb. This kind of
language doesn't exist in the wild, but, given the idea of "trigger
languages", there's no reason why it shouldn't.

The point of this post is the following:

To suggest that trigger languages, as they're described, do not exist
To suggest that such trigger languages exist as conlangs only.
To suggest that this should be noted on this page.
I don't mean to suggest that the trigger conlang is a bad thing (as I
said, I have one myself), only that it isn't necessarily a
representation of something that's naturally occurring.

"A male love inevivi i'ala'i oku i ue pokulu'ume o heki a."
"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."

-Jim Morrison


Roger Mills <rfmilly@...>
Kalle Bergman <seppu_kong@...>Double verbs and topic marking