Re: Trigger Systems (was Re: Book on constructive linguistics)
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, October 5, 2006, 21:17|
Christopher Bates wrote:
>> As you may recall from past discussions, this is pretty much my view.
>> Or call them "focus systems" -- after all, the English (or other)
>> passive is simply a way of shifting focus from Agent/etc. to Patient,
>> and Philippine langs. merely go several steps further, being able to
>> "passivize" many of the constituents in a sentence (as you do in your
>> English examples)--
So wrote Roger Mill's in response to David Peterson's " The trigger
systems of Austronesia don't actually seem to be anything more than
languages with multiple passive formation and applicativization
Also, as you may recall in the November 2004 thread on this subject, it
was pretty much my view also. But I do not think English passivization
is to do with focus; it is used, surely, when the patient is
topicalized, i.e. the subject of conversation is the patient.
"What upset to Jim so much?" "He's just been told he's lost his job."
If we want to _focus_ we tend to put it at the end with emphasis, e.g.
"What did you say Jim had lost?" "I said he'd lost his *job*"
Indeed, when talking about the Austronesian languages there seems to be
some confusion over the terms topic, focus & subject (not to mention the
> There are interesting discussions of this in:
> 1) Grammatical Voice by Klaiman
> 2) Subject and Topic edited by Li and Thompson
> In (1) Klaiman argues that there is a difference between voice whose
> primary function (or one of whose primary functions) is argument
> rearrangement (derived voice) and voice whose primary function is
> marking of pragmatic roles (pragmatic voice). There are languages which
> have voice operations marked on the verb that mark pragmatics but do not
> really alter the argument structure of the verb, although I think
> finding a language with derived voice that doesn't ALSO have a pragmatic
> function may be more difficult. In any case, Klaiman argues that the
> Tagalog trigger system is a pragmatic voice system, and thus implicitly
> argues that it marks pragmatic notions but is NOT primarily argument
Interesting, and I guess one needs to read Klaiman's book (but when
Amazon quotes £53.27 for a used copy, I think it may have to wait) to
get the full picture of his arguments. There certainly is argument
rearrangement in Tagalog, i.e:
Nag-alis n(an)g sapatos ang babae
remove-AF;COMPL GEN shoes NOM woman
Inalis n(an)g babae ang sapatos
remove-GF;COMPL GEN woman NOM shoes
Note: AF = actor-focus; GF = goal-focus; COMPL = completive aspect
Both tells us that "The woman removed her shoes." As the verb defines
the role of the subject/topic (Heh! Isn't that what subordinative verbs
do in Tatari Faran?), I think I see what Klaiman is getting at. However,
other arguments of the verb are just expressed with the genitive
particle n(an)g, cf.
Ipinang-alis n(an)g babae n(an)g sapatos ang kalsador
remove-IF;COMPL GEN woman GEN shoes NOM shoehorn
= The woman removed her shoes with a shoehorn.
(IF = instrument-focus)
Note: the examples are from "Nominal Syntax in Verbal Predications," by
Buenaventura Naylor of the University of Michigan; and the terms
actor-focus, goal-focus and instrument-focus are hers, not mine :)
> This is supported by a paper in (2) which examines the function of the
> trigger in Tagalog, and whether the trigger is the subject of the
I do find the use of 'trigger' to denote the subject/topic odd as it
comes last in the sentence. It implies that the initial verb form is
triggered by the yet unexpressed subject/topic.
But I have come across the term 'trigger' used also to refer to the verb
or to the verbal affixes as it/they trigger(s) the role of the
subject/topic. This makes slightly more sense. But IMO the use of
'trigger' to describe such systems is not helpful.
If your report of Li and Thompson is correct, I cannot agree with it.
But as you say, one needs to read their book before commenting in more
>> I often suspect it's simply a terminological dispute-- Passives,
>> Focus, Trigger-- sama-sama.
Not certain about that - there do seem to be different perceptions about
what does happen in Tagalog. But you might be right.
>> Use of the "trigger" term in AN/Philippine
>> linguistics is of rather recent origin, I think, and not widely used.
> I think the reason for adopting such an approach is because the term
> "voice" is still biased towards the voice typically found in European
> languages, that is derived voice.
Again, I would like see why Klaiman makes this difference. Personally, I
find the use of 'trigger' in attempting to explain Tagalog syntax just
simply confusing and unnecessary.
Certainly, I agree with David's post that began this thread that the
article in the Conlang Wikibook about 'Trigger Systems' does not
describe any natlang system. I find the article misleading in that it
suggests what is described is somehow what happens in Tagalog; it is
not. Nor, indeed, am I clear about what is triggering what in either the
examples or explanations.
As far as I can see, it is a method whereby:
(a)Every argument of the sentence is marked for its role: agent,
patient, other objects (quite unlike Tagalog); but ....
(b) The argument to be focused is not marked, but rather the verb is
marked with that role marker.
I agree with David in that I also wish:
to suggest that such trigger languages exist as conlangs only;
to suggest that this should be noted on this page.
Likewise, I also do *not* mean to suggest that the 'trigger conlang' is
a bad thing, only that it isn't necessarily a representation of
something that's naturally occurring. Indeed, experimenting with such a
system could be quite interesting & illuminating.
Nid rhy hen neb i ddysgu.
There's none too old to learn.