[Lingtyp] terminological question about intransitive verbs

Martin Haspelmath martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de
Wed May 12 13:24:07 UTC 2021

I don't think there's anything wrong with "actor-holding - 
undergoer-holding", but why not simply "agentive – patientive"?

The term pair "actor/undergoer" was coined by Foley & Van Valin (1984: 
§2.1) in order to have a way to generalize over the following kinds of 

/Colin (A) killed the taipan (U)./
/The avalanche (A) crushed the cottage (U)./
/The dog (A) sensed the earthquake (U)./

Van Valin also used "Actor" and "Undergoer" for two types of Lakota 
single-argument verbs, but it is well-known that there's a wide range of 
ways in which languages can have multiple valency constructions for 
single-argument verbs.

For example, Russian has some single-argument verbs that take an 
Accusative argument (/menja tošnit/ 'I.ACC feel sick') and others that 
take a Dative argument (/mne nezdorovitsja/ 'I.DAT feel sick'). Are both 
these valency classes "undergoer-holding"? Or maybe "actor-holding" 
because experiencers are sentient and therefore more like agents?

So for the stereotypical subdivision of single-argument verbs ("active – 
inactive" in Klimov 1977), maybe "agentive – patientive" is the best choice?


Am 12.05.21 um 12:24 schrieb Christian Lehmann:
> The only or direct actant of an intransitive verb may be its actor 
> (/run/) or its undergoer (/die/). This may be taken to be a feature of 
> the verb's valency. There are then two valency classes of intransitive 
> verbs. I know of the following terms for these:
> active - inactive (Klimov)
> agentive - non-agentive
> unergative - unaccusative (Perlmutter)
> All of these pairs have terminological or conceptual problems (which I 
> can name if desired). I have therefore been looking for better terms. 
> I had called them
> actor-oriented - undergoer-oriented.
> However, I need the term 'oriented' in verbal grammar in a different 
> sense, so I have to replace these. Currently, I call them
> actor-holding - undergoer-holding
> Not particularly elegant, are they?
> Are there good terms on the linguistic market (of the past two 
> centuries) for what is meant by the above? Or failing this, brilliant 
> neologisms?
> Grateful for suggestions,
> Christian
> -- 
> Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
> Rudolfstr. 4
> 99092 Erfurt
> Deutschland
> Tel.: 	+49/361/2113417
> E-Post: 	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
> Web: 	https://www.christianlehmann.eu
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Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig

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