Question on agentive nominalizations

Marcel Erdal erdal at EM.UNI-FRANKFURT.DE
Sat Jun 21 11:31:38 UTC 2008

On pp.153-5 of my Grammar of Old Turkic (Brill, Leiden 2004 = Handbook of 
Oriental Studies VIII,3) I mention a number of -(X)gcI forms (similar to 
Yakut -AAccI which you quote) and other agentive deverbal nouns governing 
accusative and dative objects and also a converb form; some further such 
examples are mentioned in the 1st volume of my Old Turkic Word Formation 
(Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1991).
All the best,
Marcel Erdal

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mark Baker" <mabaker at RUCCS.RUTGERS.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: Question on agentive nominalizations

Thanks to Nicholas and Leonid for their detailed discussion and references
to this Sanskrit case, which I was not aware of.

Perhaps I should have mentioned in my first message that an accusative
case object is possible with an agentive noun in Sakha as well, one of the
three languages that we start with.  Hence both of the following are

terilte-ni salaj-yy
company-ACC  manage-E.NOML
'the managing/management of the company'

Terilte-ni   salaj-aaccy
Company-ACC  manage-AG.NOML
'the manager of the company'

At first we thought that this was a true instance of type (4).  But upon
further investigation, it turns out that the ONLY verb-like property of
agentive nouns that we have found is the ability to take an accusative
case object.  For example, adverbs are impossible with the agentive
nominalization, although they are fine with the event nominalization:

Terilte-ni ücügejdik salaj-yy ülehit-ter xamnas-tar-yn ürdet-ie.
company-ACC well manage-NOM worker-pl salary-pl-3.acc increase-fut
'Managing the company well will increase the workers' salaries.'

Terilte-ni (*ücügejdik) salaj-aaccy kel-le.
company-ACC well manage-AAccY come-past.3
'The one who manages the company (*well) came.'

This contrast holds for adverbs of many types. Nor can one have aspect
marking or negation in an agentive nominalization, although all these
features are perfectly fine in event nominalizations.  Consideration of
this range of data has led us to the hypothesis that agentive
nominalizations are really no more verbal in Sakha than they are in
English-- the only difference is that the accusative case rule in Sakha is
different from the one in Western European languages (something for which
there is independent evidence), such that it applies even in this sort of
noun phrase.   And that leads us to wonder whether agentive
nominalizations can have robustly verbal internal structure in any
language.  Andrej Malchukov sent me interesting examples from Tungusic
which look very similar, at first glance.

Looking further into Sanskrit may be a challenge for my nonclassical
skills, but I will be interested to try.


> Dear Mark, dear Nicholas, dear Typologists,
> An addendum to Nicholas' counter-examples (from Sanskrit) and comments:
> Yes, Sanskrit is a good example, but I would rather quote Vedic:
> (Classical) Sanskrit
> was not a living language any longer (its status being comparable to that
> of the medieval Latin),
> but Vedic (to which Speijer's characterization "in the earlier period"
> refers) _was_, at least
> in its early period (until approx. the beginning of the 1st mill. BC, in
> the language
> of the Rgveda and, perhaps, Atharvaveda). Incidentally, the accentual
> oppositions mentioned
> by Nicholas are only applicable for (early/middle) Vedic, where the
> accentuation still was marked;
> Classical Sanskrit lost the accents which existed in Vedic.
> Also, I would be careful when quoting Panini: he is usually supposed to
> rerflect the usage
> as attested (foremost) in middle Vedic, but, in fact, some of his
> prescriptions should be
> taken with caution as they are not corroborated by evidence from texts
> (W.D. Whitney has repeatedly
> noticed that fact). But at least in case of his
> accentual rules, they do correspond to usages attested (in Vedic).
> For the usage and syntax of TR/TAR-nouns, you may now consult a
> comprehensive monographic description
> by Eva Tichy (Eva Tichy. Die Nomina agentis auf -tar- im Vedischen.
> Heidelberg: Winter, 1995;
> see esp. pp. 331ff. on constructions with acc. vs. gen., but also passim).
> Note also that the (very productive) TAR-nouns are also compared with
> participles by grammarians
> and even considered some sort of 'quasi-participles' (e.g. Whitney,
> Sanskrit grammar (1889), p. 446:
> "these [agent-nouns in TR] in the oldest language are very frequently used
> participially, governing the
> object in the accusative")
> best
> Leonid Kulikov
> Leiden University
> Faculty of Arts, Dept. of Indo-European Comparative Linguistics (VIET)
> PO Box 9515
> 2300 RA Leiden
> The Netherlands
> Tel. +31-71-5272203
> E-mail: L.Kulikov at
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG]
> On Behalf Of Nicholas Ostler
> Sent: maandag 16 juni 2008 21:16
> Subject: Re: Question on agentive nominalizations
> Well, Sanskrit as ever provides counter-examples to *(4) - if we accept
> (as ever) that it can be counted among the natural languages of the world.
> Here the agentive is signified with a formative in -tr.-, nominative -ta:
> E.g. (examples from Speijer 1886 - Sanskrit Syntax, p. 40):
> Pancatantra iii.71:
> narapatir neta: prajña:s
> kingNOM.SG leaderNOM.SG subjectACC.PL
> king leader of his subjects
> Daçakuma:racarita 199:
> sambha:vayita: budha:n prabha:vayita: sevaka:n ud.a:vayita: bandhu:n
> nyagbha:vayita: çatru:n
> honourerNOM wiseACC.PL promotorNOM servants ACC.PL raiserNOM kinsmenACC.PL
> lowererNOM enemiesACC.PL honourer of the wise, promotor of servants,
> raiser of kinsmen, bringer-low of enemies
> There are some complications. There are two possible accentuations of
> these agentives, oxytone and barytone. According to Panini [3.2.135] only
> the barytone have this construction (otherwise genitive being required to
> mark object dependents). The particular sense of barytone agentives is
> 'lasting and inherent qualities'.
> Speijer comments (p. 40):
> The acc. with the barytona in -tr.-, though not rare in the earlier
> period, seems to protract but an artificial life in classical Sanskrit
> [from which the two above examples come - NDMO], as it is met with only in
> the refined style and even there side by side with the genitive... On the
> other hand, the examples given by Ka:çika: on Panini 3.2.135 prove that,
> at the time, they were applied at first, the construction with the acc.
> was obvious and natural.
> These examples include
> karta:
> makerNOM matACC.SG
> '(skilful) maker of mats'
> Complicating the picture, the ending -tr.- is also used with another
> meaning, viz periphrastic future, e.g.
> Malavagnimitra i, p. 15
> mukta: ma:ghavasenam tatah. 'ham
> freeAGENT.NOM MaghACC then I.NOM
> then I shall free Maghavasena
> and there behaves like a regular finite verb. Formally it seems to be on
> its way to reanalysis as quite  separate from the noun - since in the 1st
> and 2nd person (plural and dual), and in the feminine singular too, the
> MASC.NOM.SG-looking -ta: is still used, instead of corresponding dual and
> plural (or fem). Nevetherless, masculines do select agreeing forms of the
> form, as if it were an agentive noun:  -ta:rau (Dual), -ta:rah. (Plural)
> We are told (Speijer p. 259) that
> "the tense in ta: cannot be used of every future, but only of such actions
> as will not occur soon... it is therefore a remote future." So it is not a
> marginal pattern, but one well established in the literature and so
> interpreted.
> In fact, many other deverbal nominals in Sanskrit also allow accusative
> direct objects: e.g.
> desideratives in -u-, -ishlu-
> agentives in -aka-
> some in -in (e.g. çatam da:yi: 'owing 100')
> These are all totally distinct from the present participle (formed in
> -ant-), by the way.
> So a student of Sanskrit would not naturally come to think of your
> generalization as valid, Mark.
> Best
> Nicholas
> Mark Baker wrote:
>> Dear Typologists:
>> I have a question that perhaps people out there can help me with.  Two
>> of the more common kinds of deverbal nominalization are
>> event/action-denoting nominals like (1) in English, and agent-denoting
>> nominals like (2) in
>> English:
>> (1) The finding of the wallet (?so quickly) [was a relief.]
>> (2) The finder of the wallet (*so quickly)  [received a reward.]
>> These can be reasonably similar in their gross syntax, apart from the
>> difference in meaning, as in the English case.  Now alongside (1) is
>> the gerundive nominal in (3), which is another way of denoting the
>> action/event.
>> (3) Finding the wallet (so quickly) [was a relief.]
>> (3) is semantically similar to (1), and like (1) it acts like a noun
>> phrase in the larger clause, but its internal syntax has many verbal
>> features: the object of "find" is an unmarked accusative NP, adverbial
>> modifiers are possible, the definite article is not used, etc.  The
>> literature contains many discussions that compare and contrast
>> examples like (1) and (3) in various languages.
>> What I am interested in is the fact that there seems to be no more
>> verbal construction that denotes an agent.  For example, in English
>> there is nothing like (4), which would be parallel to (2) in much the
>> way that (3) is parallel to (1) [but see qualification below].
>> (4) *(The) finder the wallet so quickly [received a reward].
>> I have good evidence that there is nothing like (4) in three unrelated
>> languages I am studying (English, Sakha, Mapudungun) and I don't
>> recall seeing examples like (4) in my general reading.  I am thus
>> interested in the possibility that examples like (4) are impossible
>> universally.
>> However, I am finding it a bit hard to evaluate this by looking at
>> standard grammars, since many of these simply list a few examples of
>> agentive nominalizations in isolation, without saying one way or
>> another if they combine with direct objects, adverbs, etc.  Can anyone
>> point me to relevant cases, pro or con, that could be worth looking
>> into?  Any references to general/theoretical discussions of this
>> pattern would be most welcome too.
>> Thank you!
>> Mark Baker
>> Qualification: One challenge in evaluating this hypothesis that I am
>> aware of is the need to distinguish true agentive nominalizations from
>> active participles that are used as headless subject relatives-e.g.
>> constructions like "The one who is seeking the wallet anxiously",
>> where "one who is" may be null, leaving only "the - seeking the wallet
>> anxiously".  I know how to tell the difference between active
>> participles and true agentive nominalizers in the languages I know,
>> but this might not be straightforward in other languages.  I don't
>> necessarily expect people to sort this out for me before mentioning
>> possible cases.
> --
> Nicholas Ostler
> Chairman, Foundation for Endangered Languages Registered Charity: England
> & Wales 1070616
> 172 Bailbrook Lane, Bath BA1 7AA, England
> Phone: +44 (0)1225-852865 Mobile: (0)7720-889319
> nostler at

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