LINGUIST List 7.1423

Fri Oct 11 1996

Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. oshita, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Message 1: Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 00:11:54 PDT
From: oshita <>
Subject: Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Dear Linguists,

In his posting (vol-7-1373) Richard Ingham makes comments
concerning my posting (vol-7-1355). Following are three main
points in his posting. I have added my replies to them below
each point.

1) Oshita's quote from Radford (1990:246-7) is based on "creative

As Ingham states, Radford's examples in (9b) on p. 247 involve
three alternating verbs: _hurt_, _split_, and _bounce_. Radford
does not have any non-alternating verbs such as _arrive_ among
his examples. Neither does he use the term "split
intransitivity" in his discussion of the data. However, _in the
context of his exposition on the topic of
"externalization/internalization" of arguments_, it is clear that
Radford is referring to the intransitive (i.e. unaccusative) use
of the alternating verbs. I trust that the author is reasonably
confident in his interrpretation of the data. Otherwise, his
juxtaposition of these examples in (9b) with the unergative
examples in (9a) would not make much sense. Whether we call them
"unaccusative" or "unaccusative uses of alternating verbs" seems
rather trivial. The real issue is how the child determines the
syntactic position of a single non-Agentive (or non-Effector)
argument of a verb in contrast to that of a single Agentive (or
Effector) argument of a verb. _In this context_, to see the
examples as relevant to the issue of "acquisition of split
intransitivity" does not appear out of place. The issue is in
fact part of a larger question of semantics-syntax interface that
Perlmutter & Postal's UAH, Baker's UTAH, Levin and Rappaport's
Linking Rules, etc. puroport to answer. The unaccusative (uses
of alternating) verbs seem to serve as a particularly interesting
ground for investigation of isssues such as syntactic vs.
semantic bootstrapping. Of course, we can argue, as Ingham does,
whether Radford's data are the best kind or large enough to
support the point he is making. However, an answer to this
latter question does not seem to warrant Ingham's contention that
I "creatively misread" Radford's data.

2) Oshita makes a claim in his posting.

My intention was not to make any kind of claim. Moreover, I have
assumed that DISCUSSION on LINGUIST is a forum for exchanging
ideas/opinions, not a place where a membre simply comes in and
makes whatever claim he/she wants to make. I have thought that
other readers share this assumption about the nature of
DISCUSSION. In any case, what I tried to do was to present an
idea that I have come to entertain recently as a clear statement,
to which, I hoped, interested readers could express their pros
and cons. Of course, I do not have substantial evidence either
to support or to refute the statement. My very purpose of
posting it on LINGUIST was to gain insights from as varied a
readership as possible. My original query (vol-7-1239), summary
of the replies to the query (vol-7-1288), and most recent posting
(vol-7-1355) are all done in this spirit. If my intention was
not clear to some readers before, I hope it is now.

3) The terminological confusion such as Oshita's should be
clarified before we attempt a discussion.

I agree with Ingham's suggestion in spirit, but in reality it is
neither practical nor possible to expect everyone to use
technical terms in the same predefined senses. Some researchers
call Ingham's "alternating verbs" "ergatives" while others call
the same class of verbs "paired ergatives" in contrast to
Ingham's "unaccusatives" which they call "unpaired ergatives" or
simply "ergatives." Even the term "unaccusativity" has a narrow
or wide sense, depending on the context and the users. For some,
this is a syntactic phenomenon assumed to be common in
constructions such as passive and raising, and contrasts with
"unaccusative" which refers to a class of verbs with a particular
kind of argument structure representation. These differences in
terminology, however, seem to be trivial as long as the users'
intention is clear _in the context of their statement_. I'd like
to see real issues discussed rather than further clarifications
and reclarifications of terminologies. Even without them, I
believe, meaningful discussion is possible.

Hiro Oshita
Dept. of Linguistics
Los Angeles, CA 90089
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