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Re: Ergative?

From:Michael Poxon <m.poxon@...>
Date:Sunday, September 30, 2001, 11:58
I think part of the problem with this is terminology; "passive" is a term
coined from its relevance to the classical languages, especially Latin, in
the days before Ergative languages were encountered, and the lack of any
indication of ergativity in English. When an ergative notion is encountered,
the passive voice, often employing the word "by" - used also for
instrumentality, tends to be employed. Thus we get sentences like "The house
was built by my father". Now, is this passive, ergative, or instrumental? In
terms of English grammar, it is a passive form; 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

Or in a language which marks for accusatives:
My father
The house-acc (receiver of performed action)

So the way you see ergativity is largely dependent on the way you want to
view it (sounds a bit like the Heisenberg thing!)
Mike Poxon

----- Original Message -----
From: "Vasiliy Chernov" <bc_@...>
To: <CONLANG@...>
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 4:44 PM
Subject: Re: Ergative?

> On Thu, 27 Sep 2001 14:52:12 -0400, The Gray Wizard <dbell@...>
> > >> BTW, is there a simple criterion to distinguish the ergative > >> construction from the passive one? > > > >I'm not sure I understand your question. Ergative constructions and
> >constructions are not mutually exclusive. > > I've heard of that, but I don't understand how such situations are
> - that's exactly what my question was about. > > >Ergativity is the discriminatory application of case roles to the core > >arguments of a predicate based on a formal parallel between the
> >argument of a transitive predicate and the S-function argument of an > >intransitive one. > > Consider how sentences with passives are construed. > > The house (P, abs) was built by my grandfather (erg.). The house (S, abs) > will stand for long. > > No? > > > Passivity, on the other hand, is a voice operator used to > >modify the valency or argument structure of a predicate. NPs are
> >marked for the former while VPs are typically marked for the latter.
> >antipassive voice is more common among ergative languages, a number also > >have passive forms (my conlang, amman iar, is ergative and has both
> >and antipassive voice operators). > > My father builds (antipassive) houses. > > How do you decline such an analysis? > > Maybe, I should explain where my question comes from. In the thread
> languages' I mentioned Tagalog among the hardest ones; I remembered that
> failed to grasp something important about its syntax, and the matter was > partly that the grammars I'd read described it as a nominative lang, while > I felt this wasn't quite adequate. > > Typically, the descriptions went on as follows: "T. has normal active
> curiously, it also has several passives; moreover, it uses its passives > more often than its active voice; BTW, imperative sentences are construed > using one of the passives (e. g. 'drink it' as 'let it be drunk by you')". > > Do you see where I'm pointing? Reminds of something, doesn't it? > > This is why I ask about the criteria. How do they draw the distinction > between 'ergative vs. antipassive' and 'passive vs. active'? > > Taking into account the fact that the ergative construction sometimes > evolves from the passive one (e. g. in Indo-Aryan), the question doesn't > seem to me an easy one. > > > Basilius >


Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>