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Re: Tagalog & trigger idea: I'd like comments. :)

From:H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Date:Thursday, November 18, 2004, 18:52
On Thu, Nov 18, 2004 at 03:15:34PM +0000, Ray Brown wrote:
> On Wednesday, November 17, 2004, at 08:36 , H. S. Teoh wrote:
> >My apologies, in my own confusion I've erroneously tried to > >rationalize Tatari Faran as a trigger language. This obviously is > >incorrect, and only caused more confusion that it dispels. > > No matter - it is certainly helping me to crystalize ideas on what > "Philippino triggerism" really is and is not. It is a truism that we learn > from mistakes :)
Indeed. [...]
> >I think the confusion arises from the overloaded meanings of 'focus' > >and 'topic'. At least in this thread, I believe we're using these > >terms to refer to the function of the Philippine trigger rather than > >'focus' or 'topic' in the general linguistic senses. > > I think this is probably so. This is why I pointed out to Mr Pehrson with > his "A Bit of Flame" why it is useful to define terms. Otherwise we finish > up talking at cross-purposes which does not help one bit.
Indeed. Which reminds me of the unfortunate fact that I've yet to find the appropriate terms to describe how Tatari Faran really works. I suppose there is no shortcut; I just have to sit down and write out formal definitions for all the terminology used. (And perhaps get clearer myself about how it works in the process of doing so.)
> I understand: > topic = "that element of a sentence which is presented as already existing > in the discourse and which the rest of the sentence ('the _comment_) is > about". Some people prefer the terms _theme_ and _rheme_ rather than > _topic_ and _comment_.
Interesting. But to clarify: does this "topic" refer necessarily to an *explicit* element in the sentence, or does it refer also to an implied topic of converstion which one derives from the surrounding context?
> focus = "Special prominence given to some element in a sentence which > represents the most important new information in the sentence or which is > explicitly contrasted with something else."
Hmm. Under this definition, the fronted NP in Tatari Faran does not qualify as "focus", since it does not necessarily present new information. Perhaps "subject" is most appropriate, as John describes below?
> It has not so far been clear from this current thread whether we are > talking about topic or about focus (in their conventional linguistic > senses) or about something else specifically peculiar to the "Philippino > triggerism" construction.
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; but one ought not to jump the gun and conclude it is equal to one or the other. [...]
> >Actually, I think I'm the one responsible for the confusion between > >fronting and triggers. > > You may be :)
:-) [...]
> > > > Yes, thanks. I understood everything Pablo wrote :) > I also notice the 'focused' NP comes last, as you said. It is also > interesting to note that according to Pablo, the NP is the trigger and > therefore, I assume, the "nominalized verb" at the beginning of the > sentence is the target. Interesting.
Probably the term "focused" is a bit risky here, since it seems to collide with your understanding of "focus". Perhaps a better term would be "overtly marked NP"? (Although, that sounds a bit too unspecific. Terminology can be such a stumbling block sometimes.) [...]
> On Wednesday, November 17, 2004, at 08:36 , John Cowan wrote:
> >In a trigger language: > > > >1) There is a distinguished NP conventionally called the "trigger" in > >every sentence: > > Yes. I understand this now. > > >calling it the subject, the focus, or the topic (as used > >to be often done and sometimes still is) is misleading, because its role > >is purely syntactic. > > Ah!! Yes, it is a bit misleading applying semantic terms like 'topic' & > 'focus' to a purely syntactic feature. "subject" on the other hand is a > syntactic label; I suppose if the NP is analyzed as the grammatical > subject, the analysis of the verb will be different from the analysis > given by Pablo and below by you.
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? 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?
> > It may be and often is the focus, but it can also > >be the topic, or be neither topic nor focus. > > Right! A bit like the grammatical subject in European languages which is > often the topic, but need not be - can also be the focus or be neither > topic nor focus :)
Which then suggests to me that "subject" is perhaps the most appropriate term for the fronted NP in Tatari Faran. However, then that leads to the difficult question of how to explain the other NP's that follow the verb. I'm doubtful if "object" would be an appropriate term. What is the accepted understanding of "object"? [...]
> >Most trigger languages are strictly verb-first, so the verb affix tells > >the listener what role the trigger NP will have. > > That makes sense. The fronting was a Tatari Faran "red herring" :)
Yes it was. :-) [...]
> >Yes, and it appears that Tatari Faran has no concept of topic/focus - > >treating them both the same way, which is a tad confusing IMO. > > > >It has focus but not topic AFAICT. > > Yes, I am inclined to agree - it did remind me quite a bit of Welsh in > that respect.
Hmm. Could it be that the confusion arises from my mistaken use of semantic terms (topic/focus) to describe the fronted NP, when it is really only a syntactic feature? [...]
> Aw! Just when I thought I got this triggering business sorted as well.....
Ah, the wonders of natlangs. :-) [...]
> On Thursday, November 18, 2004, at 02:50 , B. Garcia wrote:
> >Yes. If a noun is marked with ang for nouns and si for proper names > >(in Tagalog) it IS the focus of the verb. Everything else will *not* > >be the focus of the verb. > > "focus of the verb" is rather different 'focus' as I was understanding the > term. See John's comments above. I think this overloaded use of 'focus' > has been partly the source of the problem. If we are going to speak of > triggers, it might be less confusing to use the terms 'trigger' and > 'target', I think.
Perhaps we should just stop trying to explain the Philippino trigger in terms of topic or focus, and just called it the "trigger"? Either that, or we should define exactly what we mean by "focus" or "topic" when we apply them to triggers. [...]
> >>2. Is then the target the emphasized element? > > > >Yes, because the target (which i assume you mean marked with either > >ang or si) is the focus of the verb. > > Oh dear. This quite the opposite that I have been understanding from Pablo' > s web-page and from John. I had understood that the NP marked with 'ang' > or 'si' was the _trigger_, not the target.
I think this is because Tagalog has a much more symmetric system than, say, English, as John pointed out. Is it the verb affix that triggers a particular marking on the NP, or is it the NP that triggers the affix on the verb? Perhaps the choice is arbitrary, and it is better thought of as a *single* compound operation, two sides of the same syntactic device used to make that NP the "subject" of the sentence.
> >>3. As not all sentences have focus, do 'non-focused' sentences have a > >>trigger affixed to the verb? If so, why? > > > >Non-triggered (meaning they lack a noun that is focused) verbs can > >either have a trigger affix on the verb, or not. > > Now I can see that we are in fact talking at cross purposes. I was using > 'focus' in the sense of "new information", whereas you are using 'focus' > to mean the NP to which the verbal affix relates. It is clear the two > meanings are not the same.
Which is why I propose that perhaps we should avoid using "topic" or "focus" altogether when talking about the Philippino trigger.
> >Those that do not have a trigger affix:. > > Now should we be speaking of the 'trigger affix' or the 'triggered affix'. > I am not trying to split hairs; I am trying to make sense of the > construction. > > If, as John says, the marked NP is the trigger, then the verb is the > target and the affix is triggered by the NP. This is something I can > understand because to a limited extent we have NP targeting verbs in > European languages; the subject NP triggers verbal agreement, usually a > particular suffix. In the Bantulangs we may have two NPs targeting the > same ver, one triggering subject agreement and the other triggering object > agreement. So I do not find it a quantum leap to find a NP triggering > role-agreement or role-marking in a target verb. > > 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_. > But I must confess I find this explanation a little harder to follow.
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. Unless there is evidence that one can happen without the other, I see no reason why we should feel compelled to decide whether it is the NP that triggers the verb affix or it is the verb affix that triggers the NP's marking. [...]
> >They can also have a focused or unfocused noun. When they have a > >focused noun, the noun is definite. Without one the noun is > >indefinite. > > > >Ex: > > > >Gusto ko ng litson - I like lechon (in general) > >Gusto ko ang litson - I like the lechon (this one in particular) > > Which I suppose is why Ms Aspillera calls _ang_ the "definite article". > > So _ng_ marks the patient?
I think _ng_ and _ang_ are just two forms of the trigger marker; one is used for indefinite NPs and the other for definite NPs. I don't think it has anything to do with patients. [...]
> >I made the mistake of posting in haste. Where I said "affix on the > >noun" i really meant the trigger _particle_ . ONLY the verb has the > >affix. It is that particle which marks what is being > >emphasized/focused. > > Sorry, I do not follow how we can have a _trigger affix_ and a _trigger > particle_. Either the NP is the trigger or the verb is the trigger. Either > the affix or the particle is being _triggered_. I am finding the current > terminology confusing.
I think what he means by "trigger particle" is that marker (_ang_ or _ng_) that marks the NP as the "trigger NP", and "trigger affix" is the affix that gets put on the verb to indicate the semantic role of this NP. Perhaps we shouldn't even call it "trigger", since the term appears to have a different definition in general linguistics. Like I said, I see the two markings as two sides of the same syntactic device to make that NP the "subject" (or whatever term you want to use - the overtly marked NP perhaps). [...]
> He was swimming *under the water*. (Prepositional phrase is emphasized). > I saw her *yesterday*. (Adverb is emphasized). > Yes, he actually *bought* it. (Verb is emphasized). > > Probably we should not be using the term 'emphasized' when describing the > 'trigger system'.
Yeah, I think emphasis is orthogonal to trigger marking (in the Tagalog sense). The trigger NP may sometimes serve as the emphasized NP, just as it may sometimes serve as the topic or focus, but that is orthogonal to the trigger marking itself. Maybe "subject" is still the best term for this NP after all. [...]
> >If you mean fronting the verb (i am unsure of what the term exactly > >means), > > It would mean putting the verb first in a sentence when that is not its > normal position. So in "Buying it, is he?" the verb has been fronted. But > it is clear now that fronting, while a feature of Tatari Faran (and Welsh, > German & many other langs) is not relevant to the "trigger sustem" > discussion.
[...] I think it would be helpful to differentiate between the syntactic device of trigger marking from the set of possible semantic usages the NP marked in this way may have. The trigger marking itself is just a syntactic feature: the NP gets marked by a particular marker (which is commonly labelled "trigger marker", but which is really just a marker reserved for the purpose of this syntactic operation), and the verb receives an affix which corresponds with the semantic role of the NP. The *interpretation* of such a marking on the NP may very well vary: it may indicate that the NP is the topic, it may be used as a way to emphasize the NP, or it may indicate that the NP is the focus of the sentence. But this is in the semantic domain, and strictly speaking, is orthogonal of the particular device (trigger marking in this case) by which this NP has been marked. While it would be interesting to discuss the semantic interpretations of Tagalog's trigger marking, I think we can avoid a lot of confusion if we stop conflating the two. The trigger marking is purely syntactical, how such a marking is interpreted by Tagalog speakers semantically is not to be confused with the mechanics of the marking itself. T -- Two American lawyers went down to the beach for a swim. Seeing a canoe rental nearby, one asked the other, "Roe, or Wade?"