Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Subject+verb Idioms, was: deeply embedded VSO nightmare

From:Vasiliy Chernov <bc_@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 23, 2001, 20:30
On Mon, 22 Oct 2001 15:11:50 PDT, Matthew Pearson
<Matthew.Pearson@...> wrote:

>A major piece of evidence for arguing that objects 'bind' more closely to >the verb than subjects do (even in VSO languages) is that verbs much more >readily form word-like units ('idioms') with their objects than they do >with their subjects. English, for example, has idioms in which the entire >sentence has an idiosyncratic meaning: > > The shit hit the fan. > >And idioms in which the verb and object together have an idiosyncratic >meaning, but the subject has a 'literal' interpretation: > > Pat kicked the bucket. > >"X kicked the bucket" means "X died", where X can vary. > >However, there are no idioms in English--at least, none that I can think >of--which consist of a verb and its subject, the object having a literal >interpretation and varying from context to context. For example, we could >imagine a hypothetical idiom of the form "The toaster burned X" meaning "X >went bankrupt": > > The toaster burned Pat (= Pat went bankrupt) > The toaster burned my brother (= My brother went bankrupt) > >But no such idioms exist in English. In fact, it's been claimed that no >language anywhere has such idioms. If we assume that idioms are stored in >our mental dictionaries as phrases (constituents), then we could take this >observation (if true) as evidence that languages treat a verb and its >object as a phrase, to the exclusion of the subject of that phrase (at >least underlyingly).
Hey... either I don't understand you, or the above isn't correct. In addition to Kou's English examples which I cannot assess, I think I can adduce quite a few Russian idioms construed as subject+verb, with other arguments variable. E. g. ('he' can be substituted with any other appropriate word in all examples): Kakaja mukha jego ukusila? lit. 'What (kind of) fly has bitten him' = 'Why is he behaving so strangely?' Jego khvatil Kondratij. lit. 'Condratius stroke him' = 'he had an apoplectic stroke' Or, with variable indirect object: Jemu medved' na ukho nastupil. lit. 'A bear has stepped onto his ear' ('onto his ear' being construed as 'to him, onto the ear') = 'He is absolutely unmusical'. BTW, intuitively I feel that in Russian, direct objects are in much looser connection with verbs than in English. But I don't think Russian is the extreme example here; for instance, Arabic seems to go further. Also, this seems to have some relation to transitivity issues. For example, the unaccusative vs. unergative properties of verbs. The former category is nearly absent in Russian (and, IIRC, Arabic), which I guess must look odd from the perspective of English. I must think a bit if word order rules interfere with this. At a glance, it seems important that in my Russian examples, the objects can be easily fronted, forming the topic, while the rest of the sentence seems to be undivided focus (indivisible, since idiomatic). Basilius


Lars Henrik Mathiesen <thorinn@...>