David's Hierarchy of Omissibility of Subjects

Charles Randriamasimanana C.H.Rand at MASSEY.AC.NZ
Wed Nov 25 23:54:47 UTC 1998

Hello Wolfgang & Everybody!

Point # 1: In response to Wolfgang's first question, note the difference in
meaning between (1) and (2), on the one hand and (3), on the other.

(1)	Ireto m-ianatra ireto ny mpianatra.
	these pres-study these the students
	'The students are studying.'

(2)	Ity m-ianatra ity ny mpianatra.
	this pres-study this the student
	'The student is studying.

(3)	M-ianatra ny mpianatra.
	pres-study the student(s)
	'The student(s) studies/study (as a rule, habitually).'

The structure in (1) and (2) locate the event being described in the
speaker's HERE & NOW, which is translated by the English present tense +
progressive form of the verb. On the other hand, in (3) what is described
is a habitual, generic kind of activity ('as a rule, etc.'), as is
reflected in the English simple present form of the verb, i.e. without the
progressive aspect marker.

Following a long  grammatical tradition well-known in the West, I
concentrate on sentences in out-of-the-blue contexts and avoid using
'discourse' as one of my crucial variables. For one thing, I do not believe
that knowledge of 'Malagasy discourse' in the West is a given as of yet!
Too much remains to be sorted out in that area for me to feel confident
enough to use it.

Point # 2: Wolfgang writes 'According to my informants,

	(3) m-ianatra ny mpianatra
	    PRES-study ART student

would be perfect (and pragmatically "normal" in the sense that number is
inferred from the context).

I do not know what 'perfect' or 'normal' may mean in this context. And, of
course, I do not know what kind(s) of 'Malagasy' informants Wolfgang may
have access to. I suspect  he -like many practitioners-- may be using the
same type of informant as many other people! Basically, whoever happens to
be around in the physical vicinity without regard to whether those
'informants' actually know anything about their 'native' language.

However, such an approach to language elicitation is fraught with problems
and is probably responsible for the large amount of spurious Malagasy data
published by very reputable university  presses for the past twenty/thirty
years. The laws of label prevent me from providing specific illustrative
examples with actual references to the existing literature; and so I will
confine myself to a general remark below.

Point # 3:  The general assumption here seems to be that if there is a
university student whose 'native language' is exotic enough to warrant a
linguist's interest, then such a student may  acquire the instantaneous
administrative status of 'an expert language consultant'!
	This is based on one further assumption that surely since this
person seems 'educated' enough, s/he should know about his/her own
language. I am very sorry say that this kind of further assumption is
simply mistaken in most instances where third-world countries are
concerned. A short explanation for such a situation goes something like
this: It is perfectly possible in many such countries to graduate without
any knowledge whatsoever of your own native tongue and be totally ignorant
of its grammar!!!
	A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting a Western capital
--which will remain anonymous-- and meeting with two long-time friends I
literally grew up with in a French-speaking college. In the five years we
spent together in this secondary school these friends ALWAYS spoke French
to me and NEVER ONCE did they use Malagasy with me nor open a Malagasy
grammar book since this language was NOT even part of their school
curriculum. Later on I was simply flabbergasted to find out that both of
these chaps were paid 'Malagasy language consultants' for a very important
project in this Western country!

My conclusion from the above:
Point # 3 brings to the fore the crucial importance of looking into the
backgrounds of our so-called 'language informants', on the one hand. On the
other hand, from where I sit, it  also suggests to me that  it is highly
desirable to start at the beginning with so-called 'exotic languages':
Teach such less well-known languages within the normal administrative
framework of the relevant  university if people are really interested in
doing research on those languages.



Charles Randriamasimanana, PhD in Linguistics
Linguistics, School of Language Studies
OMB 3.19
Massey University
Private Bag 11-222
Palmerston North
New Zealand

Telephone: (06)-356-9099, Extension 7059
Personal fax: (06) 359-3989

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list