Agentivity and intentionality

Noel Rude nrude at UCINET.COM
Wed Mar 7 21:47:04 UTC 2001

on 3/7/01 10:41 AM, Scott Delancey at delancey at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU wrote:

> But it's abundantly clear that intentionality is not part of the
> semantic role (or whatever you choose to call them) Agent, and I
> honestly have a very hard time understanding how anyone could suppose
> that it is.


Doesn't any theory have to allow for metaphor and extended use and
abstraction and feature suppression and all that?  We all know that
intentionality is there in human thought -- we've got a word for it -- so I
guess what we're questioning is whether it ever drives grammar -- is it a
category of grammar?

If we deny that Agents are Intentional Causes then we must believe that
intention is only inferred pragmatically, that a clause like "I broke it" in
no way of itself implies intentionality, that this comes only from the
broader context or situation.  But which is easier, to suppress it in the
context you give or add it in other contexts?

Surely we cannot so easily do away with intention as something fundamental
and primitive in Natural Language.  If you remove intention from the grammar
then you will have to build into your pragmatic discription some principles
for inferring it.

Intention is there lexically lurking in contrasts like look vs. see, pour
vs. spill, and, really, when you think of it, isn't even the category
<Human> better seen as <Potentially Intentional>?  Sahaptin, an American
Indian language in these here parts, even has a derivational prefix XA-
whose basic meaning seems to be 'unintentional' (and by extension
'suddenly') -- it very often detransitivizes, as, for ex., tamAnuun 'throw
into water' versus XAtamanuun 'fall into water'.

Why shouldn't Agent (in the prototypical sense) be seen as a complex of at
least Cause and Intention and Natural Language as flexible enough to allow
for the suppression (even degrees of suppression or enhancement) of one or
the other or both these features?  It just seems to me that at whatever
level we deal with intention, deal with them we must.


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