accusative and ergative languages

Patrick C. Ryan proto-language at
Tue Aug 3 21:37:50 UTC 1999

Dear Larry and IEists:

 ----- Original Message -----
From: Larry Trask <larryt at>
Sent: Friday, July 30, 1999 3:40 AM

[ moderator snip ]

> Your original assertion was that the passive interpretation of ergative
> languages was not only defensible but, in your view, correct.  By this
> you clearly meant that ergative constructions, in general, *are*
> passives.  This is the view which was once popular among European
> linguists, which has been effectively demolished, and which is correctly
> dismissed by Dixon elsewhere on that same page as without support among
> linguists today.

Pat responds:

Well, maybe you think it has been demolished but obviously other practicing
linguists do not.


> The point in your cited passage is an entirely different one: do all
> ergatives derive historically from passives?  Dixon notes that a few
> people have argued that the answer is `yes', but then goes on to provide
> what, in his view, is good evidence that the correct answer is `no'.

Pat responds:

Well, Dixon is wrong and so are you.


> Whatever view one might adopt on this second point, it is clearly
> distinct from the first point.  Claiming that "all ergatives *descend*
> from passives" is the same proposition as "all ergatives *are* passives"
> is rather like claiming that "all humans descend from their
> grandparents" is the same proposition as "all humans *are* their
> grandparents.

Pat responds:

I am not interested in your rhetorical flourishes. Stick to the point if you
want to discuss it.

[ Moderator's comment:
  I think that effectively ends this debate:  If Mr. Ryan believes that
  pointing out such a change in argument is a "rhetorical flourish", there is
  little left to be said, on either side.
  --rma ]


PATRICK C. RYAN (501) 227-9947; FAX/DATA (501)312-9947 9115 W. 34th St.
Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA WEBPAGES: and PROTO-RELIGION: "Veit
ek, at ek hekk, vindga meipi, nftr allar nmu, geiri undapr . . . a ~eim
meipi er mangi veit hvers hann af rstum renn." (Havamal 138)

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