Esa Itkonen eitkonen at UTU.FI
Tue Mar 20 16:08:37 UTC 2001

Undoubtedly there is an unconscious intent in linguistic behavior, as both
Givon and Wilcox suggest, but specifying it more narrowly brings out that
it is always something that makes sense. Consider the argument-marking in
nominative-accusative and ergative-absolutive languages. If X is theme (the
argument of intransitive verbs), Y is agent, and Z is patient, in
NA-languages we have X = Y =/ Z, and in EA-languages we have X = Z =/Y. How
do we EXPLAIN the fact that other configurations are (much) less frequent?
It happens as follows. X = Y = Z would not be very rational, because in the
situation {killed, Bill, John} we would like to know who killed whom. X =/
Y =/ Z would not be very rational either, because 'it is smart to be
thrifty' (i.e. a special X would be wasteful). X =/ Y = Z would combine the
preceding defects. Functional explanations as employed in linguistic are of
this type, which means that they reduce to 'unconscious (attempts at)
rationality'. You might wish to further reduce the rational explanations to
neural activity and ultimately to subatomic behavior, but this is beyond
anybody's capacity.

Esa Itkonen

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