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Re: THEORY: active vs. semantic marking languages

From:Marcus Smith <smithma@...>
Date:Tuesday, July 30, 2002, 0:17
On Mon, 29 Jul 2002, Thomas R. Wier wrote:

> Quoting "SMITH,MARCUS ANTHONY" <smithma@...>:
> > Dixon established an idealized description of the facts. Like most > > idealizations, they are very rarely met in practice. The majority of > > Ergative languages are not purely ergative, for instance. There are some, > > but they are in the minority. The same is true to a fair degree of > > Nominative languages: most of them have deviations from a purely > > nominative-accusative pattern, including dative or genitive objects, or > > dative subjects, just to name a couple. Most deviations are semantically > > motivated, just like the deviations from Dixon's idealized model. > > Have you read his book? Dixon spills considerable amounts of > ink discussing exactly such problems. I think it is rather > unfair to question his motives in this respect, since he is > usually very conscientious about when he is citing empirical > facts and when he is making generalizations (cf. his discussion > of the nominal hierarchy, p. 90, first paragraph after the > quote).
My comments were not written as a criticism of anything Dixon has done. I admire his work greatly. Looking back at my posting, I realize that the quote followed the wrong paragraph in Daniel's original posting. What I meant to be responding to was the comment: "There aren't any purely fluid-S langs (well, there might be one or two) and hardly and split-S languages either. Most active languages are ::mostly:: split-S but with fluid elements." Thus, when I said that Dixon idealized the facts, that was meant as an reaction to why you don't find languages "purely" of any given type. All useful theoretical constructs are idealizations. At least in the natural sciences and most definitely the humanities. The day we can formulate our principles in such a way that we have not idealized the slightest bit and we aren't just restating the facts, that is the day we might reasonablly say science has solved everything. Marcus