Re: Tagalog & trigger idea: I'd like comments. :)
|From:||Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Friday, November 19, 2004, 18:42|
I must say I am finding this thread very interesting. Rather than reply to
each mail in turn, I think it might be more useful to highlight what seem
to me te more important points.
> From what I'm gleaning from this discussion, the use of "topic" or
> "focus" to define the Philippino trigger is inaccurate. As John
> eloquently points out, the Philippino trigger is a syntactic marking,
> and so ought not to be confused with "topic" or "focus" in the
> semantic sense. Perhaps sometimes it happens to coincide with the
> topic, and other times it happens to coincide with the focus;
It is inaccurate to use the terms without defining its use. This IMO has
been one source of confusion. In the conventional use of _topic ~ comment_
(theme ~ rheme) and of _focus ~ presupposition_ (new info ~ given info) we
are working at the discourse level. Using any of these terms to describe a
syntactic feature is probably not a good idea.
Indeed, the use of 'focus' to describe the NP in question has obviously
been felt unsatisfactory by others. It is clear, I think, from what Tim &
John tells us, that Paul Schachter is responsible for adopting the
'trigger' terminology and others have also used it because it is more
'neutral' than alternative terms.
I note Chang's use of 'voice', presumably applied to the verb (when I
guess the NP is then the 'subject').
A trigger is an element that triggers some a required form in a target
element (e.g. the pronoun _I_ triggers the form "am" if the target is the
present tense of "to be").
As I understand it, in Schachter's analysis of the Tagalog feature under
- the NP marked with _ang_ or _si_ is the trigger
- the main verb is the target
- the required form of the target verb is determined by the semantic role
of the trigger NP
John Cowan responding to a question I put to Barry Garcia:
> See for example a footnote from this paper:
> Note that there's a quote from Schachter on the choice of the term
> | Some linguists prefer to use different terms instead of _focus_.
> | Schachetr (1987:940), for example, prefers to use the term
> | _trigger_ because it 'reflects the fact that the semantic role of
> | the argument in question triggers the choice of the verbal affix.'
> | Wouk (1996:369) also chooses the same term because for her, it
> | seems to be a more neutral term. Chang (1997:iv), on the other
> | hand, uses the term 'voice' because 'the so-called _focus_ in
> | Austronesian literature diverges significantly from common
> | focus... (and) should be identified as _voice_'.
>> But you are saying the NP is the target. Are you saying the affix is the
>> trigger or is the verb+affix? I suppose it triggers the target by causing
>> the target to loose its role marking & to be marked with _ang_ or _si_.
> There is nothing impossible about this analysis, but it's not the
> one. If we analyzed English subject-verb agreement by saying that the use
> of "am" as a verb triggers the subject pronoun "I", we'd quickly get into
> perversities, but the Tagalog situation is more symmetrical. Whether the
> NP triggers the verb agreement (as is usually said) or the verb triggers
> use of a non-semantic particle on the NP is a more theoretical question.
Indeed, it may not be the conventional analysis when using the term
'trigger', but it does appear to be one used by at least one person taking
part in the discussion and John affirms it is not an impossible one.
I think the fact that one could think either of the verb as target & the
NP as trigger _or_ of the verb as trigger and NP as target (because of the
'symmetry' of the Tagalog construction) has been another of the sources of
Roger Mills responding to a point I made:
>> Is the verbal affix the trigger and the focused NP the target? _or_
>> Is the marked NP the trigger and the verb the target?
>> I cannot help thinking some other terminology would be more helpful. Is
>> there indeed an alternative terminology for this feature of Philippine &
>> related languages?
> I agree totally; "trigger/target" seems to be adding a level of
> that is confusing and unncessary, and to my knowledge those terms simply
> NOT USED by Philippinists. We'll see what Prof. Naylor uses when she
> (my msg to her is still in draft, because I have to keep adding
That is interesting. It will indeed be very interesting to see what Prof.
"Chang (1997:iv), on the other hand, uses the term 'voice'"
> As for me, I see the choice between these two an arbitrary theoretical
> choice. So far, they seem to be two sides of the same syntactic
> operation to me: there is a particular NP we want to make the
> "subject", and the way this is done is to (1) attach a particular
> affix to the verb and (2) mark the NP with a particular marker.
I know H.S. Teoh does not then go on to argue for 'voice' (tho I think his
use of "subject" is significant) , but the quote seems to follow on from
my observations in the section above, and to link to.....
> This may be where Phil.langs. depart from (or confuse) familiar usage. In
> Engl. we can passivize on DO's and IO's-- "water was brought for the
> family...", "the family was brought water...". Certainly in our terms
> "water" and "family" are promoted to subjects(topic) here. OK-- Tag. can
> "passivize/promote to subject" more arguments than Engl. can;
> so sentences like:
> Agent Focus: Bring-AF link woman..... (Engl. "active")
> Goal Focus: Bring-GF link water.... (Engl. "passive")
> Inst.Focus: Bring-IF link bucket.... (Engl. ???)
> Ben. Focus: Brink-BF link family.... (Engl. ???)
> are all exactly parallel in Tag.-- AIUI. But what shall we call "bucket"
> and "river" in the last two?
Do you mean "bucket" and "family"? I would call them 'subject'. Indeed, I
would call the 'focused NP' [_focus_ as used by Roger] "subject" in all
The fourth one is also English "passive": The family was brought water
from the river in a bucket. But if one is analyzing the verbal forms as
'voices', then a different term is required for Tagalog.
The more I learn about this construction, the more I feel we are dealing
with 'voice', with the one NP argument or another promoted to subject. The
fact that English (and Latin & most european languages) have only active
and passive voice does not, of course, mean that those are the only two.
We know that ancient Greek had a third 'voice', known as 'middle'. Trask
lists, besides active, middle & passive: "reflexive, causative, and
adjutative, to name a few".
I would say that in the 3rd sentence 'bucket' is the subject and the verb
is in the instrumentative voice, and that in the 4th sentence 'family' is
the subject (as in my English example) and the verb is in the benefactive
But I wait with interest to read what Prof. Naylor says.
It is perhaps appropriate at this point to reply to H.S. Teoh's questions:
> Out of curiosity (and a desire to truly understand), what is the
> precise definition of "subject"? What properties must an NP satisfy in
> order to be correctly called a subject?
According to Trask, "Subjects most typically exhibit a large number of
grammatical, semantic and discourse properties". The properties Trask
chose to list are:
- it represents an entity with independent existence;
- it controls co-reference, including reflexives, pronouns and null
- it it controls switch-reference systems;
- it controls verb agreement;
- it is the topic in an unmarked sentence;
- it is the target of advancement processes;
- it can be relativized, questioned and clefted;
- it undergoes raising;
- it receives minimal case marking;
- it is an agent in an unmarked sentence.
It is not expected, of course, that the subject in any language will
exhibit all of these properties; and, as Trask observes, few of these
properties may be unique to subjects in any given language. It would,
however, be expected that subject exhibits more of these properties than
other NPs in a given language.
> Would it be valid to say that the fronted NP in Tatari Faran is a subject?
> Or should I perhaps coin a totally new term for it?
I do not know enough about Tatari Faran - but I hope the above helps
Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight,
which is not so much a twilight of the gods
as of the reason." [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]