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THEORY: active vs. semantic marking languages

From:Daniel Andreasson Vpc <daniel.andreasson@...>
Date:Thursday, July 25, 2002, 8:43
Tom Wier wrote:

> "Active" is a kinda old-fashioned way to describe these kinds of > languages. Nowadays, it's more usual to call them "split-S", when > certain Ns always take certain case agreement, and you just have > to know which it is, or "fluid-S", where some verbs may take take > either patient or agent marking depending on the context of the > sentence. Dixon wrote at length about this in _Ergativity_ > (Ch. 4: "Types of Split System").
That might very well be, but Dixon's terminology is fine in some ways and not so fine in other aspects because it's not descriptive at all. There aren't any purely fluid-S langs (well, there might be one or two) and hardly any split-S langs either. Most active languages are ::mostly:: split-S but with fluid elements. I agree with him that one could consider truly split-S languages to have syntactic marking just like accusative and ergative languages. The problem as I see it is that the division into AGT and PAT predicates is still based on the semantics of the verb, unlike ergative/accusative langs. He further claims that fluid-S langs have syntactically based marking for transitive predicates and semantic for intransitive ones. That's simply just not true. I haven't seen a language which is all fluid or have fluid elements, which also doesn't have at least some semantically based variation in the marking of transitive predicates. And even if there are any (no doubt), I don't see why you would want to classify languages as split-S or fluid-S, when most languages fall in between. IMHO it's better to call all of these languages active, and then possibly add some info that it's mostly split-S or more of a fluid-S language. I'm interested to hear other people's thoughts on this (especially from Tom, since I'm merely an amateur on these matters, and you seem to be more up-to-date (not to mention more professional), especially on Dixon's theorys). ||| daniel