LINGUIST List 7.1440

Mon Oct 14 1996

Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Richard Ingham, Re: 7.1423, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Message 1: Re: 7.1423, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

Date: Sun, 13 Oct 1996 12:02:33 BST
From: Richard Ingham <>
Subject: Re: 7.1423, Disc: Ergatives in lang acq

To clear up an apparent misunderstanding about 'creative
misreading', I should say that I came across this phrase used in
a POSITIVE way to describe how progress is often made in
research. I'm afraid I didn't make a note of the source, but I
wonder if other LINGUIST readers know of a reference for it.
	Probably the most trivial commonplace of research is that
one very commonly goes beyond previous work by looking at
reported findings from a perspective different from that of the
author. It's one way that new ideas are developed. At the same
time, others are free to observe (as I did) that the original
source has been given an interpretation which goes well beyond
what the text appears to say. My earlier message explicitly said
that I am not hostile to such a process _per se_.
	The actual disagreement, I think, is about the evidence
for 'unaccusativity' in early English L1 syntax. Can we just do a
Pinker here and ask ourselves "what has to be acquired"? English
doesn't any more have split intransitivity as do French Dutch etc
w.r.t auxiliary selection and other major grammatical
phenomena. Whether the child actually has to acquire any
morphosyntactic reflexes of split intransitivity in English is
doubtful, as Oshita I believe would recognise. You surely pick up
e.g. adjectival past participles like _fallen angels_ etc. as
lexical flotsam later on, not during the years when syntax is
largely being acquired.
	What certainly needs to be acquired pretty early is that
English surface syntax may 'violate' Baker's UTAH by positioning
Patient arguments in Subject position. Rappaport and Levin (1995)
have (perhaps 'creatively'!) assimilated this to unaccusativity
in the older sense.
	But this is not split intransitivity in the sense of two
classes of INtransitives. I apparently need to repeat my main
point: Radford (1990), as I read him, simply has no evidence for
or against split intransitivity in child language. Amy Pierce
DOES of course, which is why I confined my reply to the evidence
from Radford (1990).
	About the terminology issue: Since I complained about
terminological confusion, let me put forward a positive proposal!
How about using 'split transitivity' as a name for the ability of
some English transitive verbs, but not others, to appear in an
intransitive active sentence. Radford (1990) unquestionably
throws light on that matter.
	I am sure this area of enquiry, and the useful
comparisons between L1 and L2 acquisition that I know Oshita is
making, will benefit from the questions he is asking. And also
from people's answers.

Best regards

Richard Ingham
Department of Linguistic Science
The University of Reading
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