LINGUIST List 5.460

Wed 20 Apr 1994

FYI: In Memoriam: George Trager

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  1. , George Trager In Memoriam

Message 1: George Trager In Memoriam

Date: Mon, 18 Apr 94 09:38:20 EDGeorge Trager In Memoriam
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Subject: George Trager In Memoriam

I read, somewhat belatedly, from the obituary in Language, the
sad news of the passing of George Trager, once a major figure
in American linguistics.

Since few will know this, but some might care, I thought I would
add a footnote regarding two of Trager's all-but-forgotten (what
am I saying? entirely forgotten) ideas.

One, in a paper in Language in the mid-40's, Trager proposed
a phonemic analysis of French in which there was a final schwa
phoneme, nasal vowels were phonemicized /VN/, and phonetic
sequences [VN] were phonemicized as /V N schwa/. I mention
this because it is one of the earliest examples of blatant
abstractness in phonological analysis, but one which was
incorporated into the phonemic (not the morphophonemic) level.

Two, in his sketch of Taos, Trager advanced what is to my
knowledge a totally unique analysis of ergativity. Everybody
knows about the passive analysis of ergative/absolutive
constructions (where you take these to be passives and hence
deny that there are transitive constructions at all in the
language in question). Trager analyzed Taos ergative/absolutive
constructions in the symmetrically opposite way: he took ALL
verbal constructions to be TRANSITIVE. Verbs like 'to be'
were simply taken to be something like 'It bees me' instead
of 'I am'. In this way, he could elegantly account for the
formal identity of intransitive subjects with objects. They
were both really objects. This can be taken I think as the
precursor of similar analyses of many intransitives within
Relational Grammar and other offshoots of TG.
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