Mon Jan 1 1996

Disc: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995)

Editor for this issue: Anthony M. Aristar <>


  1. Stanley Dubinsky, Reply to review of Levin and Rappaport
  2. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Re: 6.1786, Disc: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995)

Message 1: Reply to review of Levin and Rappaport

Date: Wed, 27 Dec 1995 14:31:18 EST
Subject: Reply to review of Levin and Rappaport
Since noone else has yet done so, I would like to correct a mistaken claim
put forward in Sebastian Shaumyan's review of Levin and Rappaport Hovav
1995, and to ameliorate the terminological frustration and confusion that
a number of list members have expressed.

 First off, the mistake. Professor Shaumyan claims
(in his Dec 18, 1995 review) the following (underscoring is my own):

> Let me turn to another point. On page 120 of the book, the
>authors, following the studies of Lyons, claim that verbs of existence
>are dyadic. The argumentation in support of this claim is convincing.
>This is a correct claim. But if we recognize this claim we cannot
>consider verbs of existence to be unaccusative verbs because unaccusative
>verbs are monadic by definition. To solve this difficulty, the authors propose
>that verbs of existence take two internal arguments rather than one
>external and one internal. In chapter 4, they present detailed
>arguments in support of their proposal.
> Granted that we agree with the authors' proposal
>that verbs of existence have two internal arguments, this does not
>solve our difficulties, because unaccusative verbs are intransitive
> --------------------------------------------
>verbs, and intransitive verbs are monadic as recognized by RG. Unless we
>arbitrarily stretch the concept of intransitive verbs, we cannot consider
>intransitive verbs to be dyadic.

This is not correct.
The formal definition of "transitive" (see Rosen 1984, p. 42) characterizes
a "transitive stratum" (n.b. strata are characterized as transitive
or not -- not clauses) as "one that contains a 1-arc (SUBJECT) and a 2-arc
(OBJECT)". Thus, an intransitive stratum is by definition: one which lacks
a 1-arc (SUBJECT), a 2-arc (OBJECT), or both. An "unaccusative" stratum
is one that is defined as having a 2-arc (OBJECT) and no 1-arc (SUBJECT).
Now, to translate Levin and Rappaport's proposal into RG terms, they might
say that a dyadic verb of existence has a DIRECT OBJECT and an INDIRECT
OBJECT (or an OBJECT and a LOCATIVE). In either case, by virtue of
having an OBJECT and no SUBJECT, verbs of existence ARE most definitely

Rosen, Carol. 1984. The interface between semantic roles and initial
grammatical relations. In David Permutter and Carol Rosen (eds),
Studies in Relational Grammar 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
pp. 38-77

Frustration with the terms "unergative" and "unaccusative" was expressed
in the following messages:

>Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 22:04:07 CST
>From: (Peter Daniels)
>Subject: Re: 6.1763, Disc: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995)
>A further difficulty with the "term" *unergative* is that in contemporary
>theory *ergative* is used in ways that seem to have nothing to do with the
>original sense of the term (for which see Dixon's book by that name).

>Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 00:22:59 EST
>From: (Sebastian Shaumyan)
>Subject: Re: 6.1763, Disc: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995)
>I must confess I cannot understand why RG uses such weird terms. I look
>at these terms simply as lables of certain concepts. Taken simply as lables,
>these terms are clear.

The first and most enjoyable cure for this confusion would be for the
afflicted to read:

Pullum, Geoffrey. 1991. Citation etiquette beyond Thunderdome. In The
Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study
of Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 147-158.
(also appears in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 6.579-588.)

For those who don't have ready access to this remedy, the terms
"unaccusative" and "unergative" were coined by Geoff Pullum in a
letter to Paul Postal in 1976. These terms were constructed from
already familiar notions of grammatical case. In some languages
(Nominative-Accusative), the object of a transitive clause is marked
with Accusative case. Thus, Pullum proposed that a stratum
containing an object but no subject should be called UNaccusative.
In other languages (Ergative-Absolutive), the subject of a transitive
clause is marked with Ergative case. Pullum's proposed term
for a stratum with a subject but no object was UNergative.

Some of the current and ongoing confusion with these terms arises
from the fact that Luigi Burzio, in his 1981 MIT dissertation, refers to
Unaccusative predicates as "ergative" and to Unergative predicates
as "intransitive". Pullum refers to this re-nomenclature as "a truly
crackbrained piece of terminological revisionism". However, if
Burzio's terminology muddied the waters some, the ad hoc manner
(per ignorance and intellectual sloth) in which others have mixed
up both sets of terms is particularly unforgivable (you know who
you are). Notice that Burzio, in reserving "intransitive" for
predicates with an underlying SUBJECT but no OBJECT, had
left no cover term for monadic predicates. Dissatisfied with this
state of affairs, but unwilling to wholly abandon the more
"fashionable" term, Ergative, some linguists in the mid-1980s
took to using Ergative in contrast to Unergative, reserving in this
way the term Intransitive for the union of the two sets.

The Pullum-Postal Terminology:

 INTRANSITIVE can be either:


The Burzio Terminology:


Terms for the Fashionably Confused:

 INTRANSITIVE can be either:


I hope that this clarifies the issue somewhat.
- Stan Dubinsky
 Linguistics Program
 University of South Carolina
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Message 2: Re: 6.1786, Disc: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995)

Date: Mon, 25 Dec 1995 16:57:38 EST
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.1786, Disc: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995)
Yes, I agree with Scott DeLancey that Sapir should also be mentioned
when one talks about unaccusative/active constructions, and I am
very grateful for the references he has posted and which I had
missed (egg-on face) of American linguists who do cite Klimov,
although I still think there should be more awareness of each other's
work. I was actually just doing a review of a Soviet linguistics
encyclopedia which has Klimov's "aktivnyj stroj" (which I am not
at all happy translating as "active system", with apologies to
Prof. Shaumyan) but not to unaccusativity, and Ihave seen references
in works of Winfred Lehmann to Klimov's theory which suggest that
he assumes that no one in the West knows of these phenomena.
I must say I dissent from Prof. Shaumyan's statement, if I understood
it correctly, that the whole of Klimov's theory is concerned with
his hypotheses about the evolution of nominative (=accusative),
ergative, and active(=unaccusative) systems, although those are
some of the more controversial and in my own view objectionable of
his proposals. 
Finally, Peter Daniels is not quite right about the term "ergative".
As I have recently shown, its original sense was NOT that found in
authors such as Dixon, and its etymology incidentally has nothing to
do with Greek ergate:s 'worker'. But I do agree that that is the only
usage which should be promoted, since anything else would just lead
to endless confusion, as indeed is already happening. 
Alexis MR
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