Stuart Robinson stuart at ZAPATA.ORG
Wed Jun 25 17:09:56 UTC 2008

I also don't see what's wrong with "Father cracked the vase" with an 
intentional reading. You get both intentional and accidental readings with 
'crack' in corpora. In deference to linguistic tradition, let's go 
with a few violent sentences from Wikipedia where 'crack' is used as a 
transitive verb and the reading is definitely intentional 

* Galuxwadzuwus ("Crooked-Beak of Heaven") and Huxhukw (supernatural 
Crane-Like Bird who cracks skulls of men to suck out their brains) are 
other participants.

* The survivors were reduced to cannibalism, with one report stating that 
the skulls of the dead were cracked open so that the brains could be 

* Though this method has been observed to be successful once in twenty-two 
attempts, it is more energy efficient than the traditional method of 
chasing the small mammals and cracking their skulls on a nearby rock.

But then you also get these, where one crack skulls accidentally:

* In the ensuing chaos, Rhys slips and cracks his skull on the edge of a 

* Recovering quickly, Caton returned to light training in December, but 
just two months later, he cracked his skull in a car accident that knocked 
back his recovery - though he did manage to appear in twenty minutes of 
reserve action before the season was out.

So it seems you get both intentional and accidental readings quite easily, 
depending on the appropriate context (at least with this particular verb 
and object, and I suspect the same holds true for other verb/object 

BTW, I found these examples by doing a search on (Full 
disclosure: I work there.) You can find instances of skull cracking here:

Or egg cracking:


On Wed, 25 Jun 2008, Suzanne Kemmer wrote:

> I'll weigh in as a native speaker of English.
> I don't think _Father cracked the vase_
> is actually ungrammatical or necessarily semantically anomalous (in the right 
> context cf. below)
> HOWEVER-- to me  it is decidedly odd,
> unlike  _Father broke/crushed/smashed/shattered the vase_ which
> all sound very normal. The latter, normal cases all express situations in 
> which the vase has its state changed to an
> extreme result: loss of integrity as a complete object.
> _Father cracked the vase_ doesn't give me the idea of a situation in which 
> the vase
> simply became cracked , i.e. got a crack in it.   Rather, it sounds like he 
> broke it in half or in pieces by
> cracking it, much like cracking an egg.   _He cracked the vase on the edge of 
> the table_ , similarly,
> sounds like he struck it on the edge of the table and it broke or cracked 
> apart.
> _He cracked it open_ is similar.
> (there's more to say about certain kinds of objects like heads, whips,
> and glass pane-like objects,  but I will leave it at this for now.  The D.O. 
> of course affects the interpretation. But the vase situation
> gives me a clear-cut intuition that transitive _crack_ in English, with most 
> kinds of objects,
> does not mean simply 'produce a crack in'.)
> The semantics of the verb _crack_  in English , when transitive,
> suggests breaking something apart with a blow that not only creates a crack 
> but results
> in separation of parts (loss of integrity),
> and (typically)  the accompanying cracking noise. (I conjecture the
> verb was onomotopeic and the noise was a prominent part of the meaning.) 
> Perhaps
> transitive _crack_ inherits this 'breaking apart' property from the 
> prototypical transitive construction which,
> with impact verbs, seems to yield a meaning of total affectedness.
> All those metaphorical uses
> others cited, like cracking codes, preserve the 'loss of integrity' feature 
> of the prototype. So transitive
> _crack_ in English really is different from intransitive _crack_, which does 
> not require this. Intransitive
> _crack_ is not as specific--it allows the single crack result, as well as the 
> loss of integrity result.
> Without googling for data, I'll venture to predict that intransitive _crack_ 
> in English, if referring to
> loss of integrity, will usually occur in some resultative construction (i.e. 
> with a particle describing
> the final result):  _It cracked open/apart_  Resultative constructions are 
> good, of course,
> for expressing total affectedness.   If my frequency prediction is true, then 
> intransitive _crack_ would not only
> allow but PREFER  the single crack result (fissure but not total breakage) . 
> For expressing  total affectedness
> at least with the intransitive, speakers would prefer the resultative 
> marking.
> Back to transitive _crack_ in English   - If I were going to express the 
> situation of somebody doing something to a fragile
> object like a vase that resulted in a single crack in it, but not a breaking 
> into pieces, I would prefer
> to say:  _You got a crack in it! _ or _You put a crack in it!_   or _You let 
> it get cracked!_
> rather than _You cracked it!_    In a similar situation I could also say _She 
> bumped/knocked/hit it
> and it cracked_.
> If my intuitions are borne out, then English is more like the other languages 
> cited than at first glance. We still
> have the problem of why words meaning 'crack' in English and other languages
> should be different in the intransitive vs. transitive argument frames--
> to the point where some languages resist using the verb in a transitive 
> construction at all.
> I think it has to do with the interaction of the semantics of 'cracking' 
> (splitting along a created fissure) and the
> semantics of prototypical  transitive vs. intransitive constructions.
> The transitive frame, used protoypically with impact verbs, has a strong 
> implication
> of  total affectedness/extreme results, but the intransitive lacks this 
> property.
> Suzanne
> On Jun 24, 2008, at 11:34 AM, Peter Kahrel wrote:
>> Frans,
>> Are you sure that "Father cracked the vase" is ok in English? Maybe other 
>> transitive uses of "crack" (crack a joke, crack a code) make it look ok. 
>> Anyway, the Dutch facts for this situation parallel your German examples.
>> State:
>> De vaas had een barst. (the vase had a crack)
>> De vaas was gebarsten. (the vase was cracked)
>> Change of state:
>> De vaas barstte.
>> Causation:
>> Same gap as German: *Vader barstte de vaas. You need roundabout ways like 
>> German, such as "Door vaders onhandigheid barstte de vaas" (through 
>> father's clumsiness cracked the vase).
>> Regards,
>> Peter
> On Jun 24, 2008, at 10:54 AM, Andrej Malchukov wrote:
>> In Russian /tresnutj /'crack' (like in /Zerkalo tresnulo/ 'the mirror 
>> cracked', a Russian translation of the title of a movie) cannot be used 
>> transitively either. Neither can /potreskalo-sj/ 'crack (small cracks)', 
>> which belongs to reflexiva tantum. Maybe it has smth to do with the fact 
>> that the semantics of these verbs focuses more on the manner of destruction 
>> than on the result, which blocks the transitive uses.
>> best,
>> Andrej

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