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

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Wednesday, November 17, 2004, 20:36
Ray Brown scripsit:

> David Crystal does not mention 'trigger' in his "A Dictionary of > Linguistics and Phonetics"; but Larry Trask does give a definition in his > "A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics", namely: > "Any element in a sentence which makes some requirement elsewhere in the > sentence. ..."
The use of "trigger" in discussing Austronesian trigger languages is a special case of this. In a trigger language: 1) There is a distinguished NP conventionally called the "trigger" in every sentence: 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. It may be and often is the focus, but it can also be the topic, or be neither topic nor focus. 2) That NP triggers the verb (the target) to show its semantic role. So if the trigger is an actor, the verb is marked "trigger is actor"; if the trigger is a patient, the verb is marked "trigger is patient", and so on. 3) The trigger NP is not itself marked for semantic role; it is either unmarked or it is given a semantically neutral mark meaning "this is the trigger". 4) Any other NPs in the sentence are directly marked for semantic role.
> OK - so the affix on the verb is the trigger and the NP is the target.
No; the other way round.
> I can understand something like this happening if there is fixed word > order and there is no other means of emphasis (for whatever reason). But I > had understood that fronting was a feature of the Philippine languages.
Most trigger languages are strictly verb-first, so the verb affix tells the listener what role the trigger NP will have.
> >Can you give an example of the various triggers in a Philippine language? > > Or even just a made-up one? > > AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!
Gives-ACTOR-TRIGGER John-TRIGGER Mary-DATIVE book-PATIENT Gives-PATIENT-TRIGGER John-ACTOR Mary-DATIVE book-TRIGGER Gives-DATIVE-TRIGGER John-ACTOR Mary-TRIGGER book-PATIENT And the three NPs can be rearranged for stylistic or pragmatic reasons, or any of them except the trigger can be left out if obvious. (As I noted above, the TRIGGER marking is zero in some languages.)
> I fail to see how this is "triggeriness". Changing emphasis does not > require triggers (tho it may be effected with the aid of triggers, I guess)
Tatari Faran is definitely not a trigger language, because all NPs are marked for syntactic role (instead of all but one). It fronts the focus, but the focus is not a trigger.
> >(Note that although the English translation resorts to the passive > >voice, the Tatari Faran retains the same verb, and merely changes the > >word order. In fact, it has no concept of active/passive; they are one > >and the same. > > 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. Trigger languages don't have voice either, although earlier interpretations that called the trigger the "subject" viewed the verb affix as a voice marker. The reason that analysis doesn't work well is that in voice systems there is one voice that heavily predominates, and the others are used for special effects (demoting or preventing particular roles). Trigger systems are more even-handed; for example, actor-trigger sentences are not particularly preferred.
> Eh? I had always understood that German fronted the _topic_, not the focus.
So had I.
> So the role is the trigger and the verb is the target? The NP which is > marked - whether for topic or for focus - triggers a particular verb form. > That makes sense.
Yes, except that it's not marked for anything semantic in particular.
> I do have "Lessons in Basic Tagalog for Foreigners and Non-Tagalogs" > dating from the 1950/60 period - but it does not mention 'triggers'!
How does it label the role of nouns marked with "ang"? "Subject", I bet. -- John Cowan "If he has seen farther than others, it is because he is standing on a stack of dwarves." --Mike Champion, describing Tim Berners-Lee (adapted)


John Cowan <jcowan@...>