|From:||Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, October 3, 2001, 18:21|
At 10:59 pm +0100 2/10/01, Michael Poxon wrote:
>Sorry, I think we may be talking at slightly crossed purposes here! I am not
>speaking of the sentence so much as the general semantic drift (notice I
>didn't say "Is this a passive, ergative or instrumental sentence"). My point
>is that each language type will realise the deep structure of an utterance
>differently (obviously!); i.e., English, with no case system to speak of,
>gets round the realisation by using word-order and/or the passive
>construction. An ergative language realises our house-building example by
>using the form appropriate to it (i.e., my father-ERG etc...)
Yes, if you accept the deep structure theory about which, quite frankly, I
a remain unconvinced.
Tho English has very little case system left, where it does it certainly
confirms that the English is, as you say, passive:
The house was built by _him_ ~ _He_ built the house.
But I thought the ergative lang. version was generally considered the
equivalent, so to speak, of our active.
But then I thought that according to deep structure theory, the deep
structure of "My father built the house" and "The house was built by my
father" was meant to be the same, the surface forms being derived by
So it is my understanding that -
Active: My father built the house
Ergative: *The-house-ABS built-ERG my-father-AGENT
Passive: The house was built by my father
- are all considered to be different surface realizations of the same
underlying 'deep structure'. But I may be mistaken. Personally, I am very
skeptical of transformational theories.
(I know statements like that can cause transformationalists to start
breathing flames, but I have no desire to get into a heated debate over
this - I am merely stating my own, possibly erroneous, position)
But notwithstanding that, semantically all three sentences mean (much) the
same, surely. What I don't quite follow is why the apparent emphasis on
ergative when the active and passive [trans]forms carry the same (basic)
Active ~ passive ~ ergative seem to me to be syntactical descriptions
rather than semantic ones, which is why I was puzzled by your email (as
well as the reference to 'instrumental' which didn't seem relevant to me).
But, as far as I can see, we agree _syntactically_ about English and, as
you say, we may well be arguing at cross-purposes.
A mind which thinks at its own expense
will always interfere with language.
[J.G. Hamann 1760]