LINGUIST List 7.1373

Fri Oct 4 1996

Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Richard Ingham, Re: 7.1355, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Message 1: Re: 7.1355, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Date: Tue, 01 Oct 1996 10:57:39 BST
From: Richard Ingham <>
Subject: Re: 7.1355, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Dear Linguists:

Hiro Oshita (message 7.1355) asks LINGUIST readers for more views
on unaccusativity.
	 While generally agreeing with him regarding the
development of 'unaccusatives' in L2 acquisition, I wonder if it
is worth trying to clear up what may be some confusion about
sources for the English L1 acquisition data.
	The expression 'split intransitivity' seems to be
normally used inthe linguistic literature to denote
morphosyntactically divergent behaviour in some languages among
two classes of verbs that do not have transitive uses e.g. _cry_
('unergative') and _arrive_ ('unaccusative').
	Radford's (1990:246-7) passage cited in Hiro Oshita's
mail contains no actual discussion of split intransitivity, as
the term is usually employed. It offers the observation that
Patient arguments of verbs such as _hurt_ and -spill_ were found
post-verbally rather than pre-verbally in one child's early
production. On the next page Radford observes that another child
did realise Patient arguments preverbally. He then tries to make
sense of these conflicting observations, without at any point
mentioning split intransitivity.
	Whatever position we take on the representativeness of
one childor the other, the point is that the verbs discussed by
Radford are mostly non-alternating transitives (e.g. _kick_,
_sew_), plus a couple of alternating transitives
(_hurt_,_spill_). Crucially, utterances featuring the latter,
such as _spilt raisin_) allow an agentive null subject
interpretation, so tell us little about whether children have an
intransitive representation for such verbs.
	So this passage in Radford (1990) is, I think, mute as to
Hiro Oshita's claim that 'children are aware of the distinction
between the two classes of intransitives at an early stage of
their English L1 development.'
	I wouldn't want to suggest that Radford (1990) represents
the last word on children's early syntax. Nor do I quarrel with
the sometimes-quoted value of 'creative misreading' in furthering
the enterprise of research. But perhaps there has been enough
terminological confusion in the 'unaccusativity' debate for one
to feel justified in entering a plea for greater precision in the
use of terms.

Richard Ingham 
Department of Linguistic Science 
The University of Reading Reading, UK
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