[Lingtyp] Fwd: terminological question about intransitive verbs

Van Valin, Robert vanvalin at buffalo.edu
Wed May 12 17:57:45 UTC 2021

That is similar to the main point of my 1990 Language paper on split-intransitivity: there seems to be two main types of split-intransitive systems, one based on verb classes/Aktionsart (e.g., Italian, Georgian) and one based on agentivity (e.g. Acehnese).  Given that two quite different factors can underlie a split-intransitive system, it is unlikely that a single pair of terms will apply to all cases.  ‘Agent(ive)’ vs. 'Patient(ive)’ would work for some splits but is irrelevant for the Italian/Georgian-type splits, whereas ’stative/inactive’ vs. ‘active’ would not capture what is going on in languages like Acehnese or Ts’ova Tush (Bats) [Holisky 1987].


On May 12, 2021, at 11:36, Marianne Mithun <mithun at linguistics.ucsb.edu<mailto:mithun at linguistics.ucsb.edu>> wrote:

There are also the simple Agent/Patient and Active/Stative, which refer to systems that are similar up to a point but not identical. The first distinguishes control/volition/affecteness, etc. while the second distinguishes events from states. This was discussed in

Mithun, Marianne.  1991. Active/Agentive case marking and its motivations. Language 67: 510-546, Reprinted 2019 in a Special Issue on Indigenous languages: 20th century perspectives.


On Wed, May 12, 2021 at 7:22 AM Van Valin, Robert <vanvalin at buffalo.edu<mailto:vanvalin at buffalo.edu>> wrote:
I meant for this to go to the list, too.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Robert Van Valin Jr <vanvalin at buffalo.edu<mailto:vanvalin at buffalo.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] terminological question about intransitive verbs
Date: May 12, 2021 at 10:18:15 EDT
To: Martin Haspelmath <martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de<mailto:martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de>>

On May 12, 2021, at 09:24, Martin Haspelmath <martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de<mailto:martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de>> wrote:

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 situations:

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.
Francesca Merlan’s paper in the 1985 Nichols & Woodbury (eds) ‘Grammar inside and outside the clause’ volume is very important in this regard, as she shows that languages exhibiting split-intransitivity differ significantly in terms of the markedness of the two major classes.  For example, in Lakhota the so-called ‘active’ class is the smaller, more restricted class (must have an animate argument), while there is no such restriction on the verbs in the larger, unmarked class of so-called ’stative’ verbs.  She argues that in Iroquoian the situation is reversed: the unmarked class is the ‘active’ class, and the smaller, restricted class contains the ’stative’ predicates.  Given the diversity she documents, it’s not obvious that terms like ‘actor/undergoer’ or ‘agentive/patientive’ are very useful as general typological labels.

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?
This example highlights another problem with these terms, namely the lack of clear criteria for assigning them when used outside of a well-defined theoretical framework.


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,

Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt

Tel.:   +49/361/2113417
E-Post: christianw_lehmann at arcor.de<mailto:christianw_lehmann at arcor.de>
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Martin Haspelmath
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