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Re: Ergative?

From:Michael Poxon <m.poxon@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 2, 2001, 22:11
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...)
When you say "If the verb is transitive, the performer of the verb is
traditionally said to be in the nominative case" you make my point.
'Traditionally' is the key word, and, yes, I agree with you that this may be
a dispute over labelling - I am just saying that if you looked at that
sentence from an "Ergative" viewpoint, 'father' would not be an unmarked
nominative (i.e., the traditional viewpoint) but marked instead for
----- Original Message -----
From: "Raymond Brown" <ray.brown@...>
To: <CONLANG@...>
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2001 8:25 PM
Subject: Re: Ergative?

> At 12:51 pm +0100 30/9/01, Michael Poxon wrote: > >I think part of the problem with this is terminology; "passive" is a term > >coined from its relevance to the classical languages, especially Latin,
> >the days before Ergative languages were encountered, and the lack of any > >indication of ergativity in English. When an ergative notion is
> >the passive voice, often employing the word "by" - used also for > >instrumentality, tends to be employed. Thus we get sentences like "The
> >was built by my father". Now, is this passive, ergative, or instrumental? > > Eh? <scratches head in puzzlement> > > The house was built by my father > Domus aedificata est a meo patre > > Apart from the fact that the Latin would normally (tho not necessarily) > take the word order "domus a meo patre aedificata est", how are two > constructions different? > > I don't understand how a sentence can by instrumental. A noun phrase may > be, but not a sentence. In fact the sentence contains no instrumental
> phrase in either language. > > Some languages have a separate instrumental case for nouns. It seems that > ProtoIndoEuropean had such a case. In Latin it is expressed simply by the > ablative case. In English is most commonly used "with" is used (e.g. "He > was killed _with a blunt instrument_"). > > "by my father"/"a meo patre" is the agent. > > > >In > >terms of English grammar, it is a passive form; > > Exactly! the active being: My father built the house. > > but one could also say that > >in purely semantic terms it is ergative: > >My father-erg (performer of transitive verb) > >Built (transitive verb) > >The house > > No - that is the active sentense. If the verb is transitive, the
> of the verb is traditionally said to be in the nominative case; simply by > labelling it 'ergative' makes no difference. It reminds me of a student,
> few years back, that thought by changing the extension of a Pascal source > code text file from .pas to .exe it would automatically become compiled > object code (I kid you not)! Simply by changing a label does not affect > the construction one way or t'other. > > >Or in a language which marks for accusatives: > >My father > >Built > >The house-acc (receiver of performed action) > > Irrelevant whether the accusative/object is morphologically marked or not. > > >So the way you see ergativity is largely dependent on the way you want to > >view it (sounds a bit like the Heisenberg thing!) > > Not it ain't. > > The English verb, like Latin, quite clearly has two distinct voices:
> & passive - > ACTIVE PASSIVE > (he) built >> (it) was built > aedificauit >> aedificatum est > > The fact that the Romans had apparently not met ergative languages is
> irrelevent in the context of English. > > In an ergative language the verb in "The house was built by my father" > would have the *same* morphological form as an intransitive verb in a > sentence like: "The house tumbled down". In English it does not. > > In an eragative language: > - the subject of an intransitive & the object of a transitive verb (from > the point of view of an active language like Latin & English) is treated > the same way; it is commonly referred to as being in the 'absolute' form
> 'absolute' case. > - all transitive verbs, then, correspond semantically to passives in a > language like English but are morphologically _active_. > - the 'subject' of the transitive verb is expressed by a form called the > 'agent'; but this would not AFAIK ever be morphologically expressed by a > prepositional phrase (as it is in English & Latin). > > Some linguists consider sentences like: "The window broke" (cf. active:
> tree broke the window) and "This advertisement reads well" (cf. active:
> reads the advertisement with interest) to be ergative in English; but I > fail to see how otherwise English is ergative. > > Ray. > > ========================================= > A mind which thinks at its own expense > will always interfere with language. > [J.G. Hamann 1760] > ========================================= >


Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>