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Transitive vs. Intransitive
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Author:  ná'oolkiłí [ Mon May 16, 2011 12:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

I can't speak for American or Pacific langs, but in the NWC languages transitivity and valence are important to keep separate, and since they mark arguments (in the verb and to a lesser extent nominals) ergatively, it's very easy to tell—if there is something ergative, the verb is transitive; if not, intransitive.

Here's a trivalent intransitive from Abaza. Applicatives increased its valence:
"I'm going with her for you"

There are some verbs that take a meaningless object marker. I don't know if any are taken as an absolutive, though. This is Kabardian.
"I swam"

There are also some unexpected things you can do by changing a verb from transitive to intransitive but keeping its valence. Again, Kabardian.

ɕ’aːla-m | txʲəɬ-ər | Ø-j-a-dʒ
boy-OBL(ERG) | book-ABS | 3.ABS-3S.ERG-PRES-read
"The boy reads the book" (telic)

ɕ’aːla-r | txʲəɬ-əm | Ø-ja-aw-dʒa
boy-ABS | book-OBL(DAT) | 3.ABS-3S.DAT-PRES.INTR-read
"The boy is reading the book" (atelic)

This example is somewhat complicated, but pretty cool:

səmadʒa-m | məʔaresa-r | Ø-j-a-ʃxʲ
sick.man-OBL(ERG) | apple-ABS | 3.ABS-3S.ERG-PRES-eat
“The sick man eats the apple”

səmadʒa-m | məʔaresa-r | Ø-Ø-xʷ-aw-ʃxʲ
sick.man-OBL(DAT) | apple-ABS | 3.ABS-3S.DAT-POT-PRES.INTR-eat
“The sick man can eat the apple”

The verb is first detransitivitized, so we go from ERG/ABS marking in the subject/object to ABS/DAT. Then the potentiality morpheme causes case inversion so we have DAT/ABS. Because Kabardian the dative and ergative case are marked with the same ending, this gives the illusion that the verb marks its arguments as if it were intransitive, but the nominals are marked transitively.

Author:  TomHChappell [ Mon May 16, 2011 7:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

If you want to learn about semantic transitivity you should start with
Hopper, Paul J.; Sandra A. Thompson (June 1980). "Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse". Language 56 (2): 251–299.

In a "perfectly" transitive clause,
there is an agent and a patient, well-individuated both from each other and from the event (for an example of the opposite consider "rain"; is that the agent or the patient or the verb?),
and the agent acts volitionally and directly upon the patient,
and the patient is thereby physically and visibly affected.

The closer a clause comes to that, the more "semantically transitive" it is.

They have a "shopping list" of ten (10) features, each of which has one value correlated with semantic transitivity and another correlated with (semantic) intransitivity.

These features are:
1:  PARTICIPANTS:               2 or more
2:  KINESIS:                    action involved
3:  ASPECT:                     telic
4:  PUNCTUALITY:                punctual
5:  VOLITIONALITY:              action is volitional 
6:  AFFIRMATION:                utterance expressing action is affirmative     
7:  MODE:                       realis
8:  AGENCY:                     A argument is high in potency   
9:  AFFECTEDNESS OF O argument: O totally affected       
10: INDIVIDUATION OF O:         O is highly individuated

(Actually, although most of the features are binary (have exactly two values), feature 9 -- "affectedness of O" -- is itself scalar.)

Although for each two features, the transitive-correlated values are correlated with each other (and the intransitive-correlated values are also correlated with each other), it does sometimes happen that languages have clauses that have one feature with a transitive-correlated value and another feature with an intransitive-correlated value.

Valency of two or more is correlated with transitivity, but, if I understand Hopper and Thompson correctly, is, according to them, neither necessary nor sufficient for transitivity.

Valency of one or less is correlated with intransitivity, but, if I understand Hopper and Thompson correctly, is, according to them, neither necessary nor sufficient for intransitivity.

It's a lot easier for me to think of bivalent intransitive clauses than monovalent transitive clauses.

There are two-argument clauses in which one argument is both the most controlling and the most affected; an the other argument is neither controlling nor affected, but nevertheless is highly involved and crucial to the meaning of the clause, in the sense that the verb makes no sense unless a second argument is stated or assumed.

For instance, if I seek for the road, or find the road, the road will not be affected by that; neither does it control that.
In fact the road doesn't care whether I look for it or find it; it isn't even aware that I'm seeking or finding it.
I, the seeker and/or finder, am both most controlling and most affected.
But I can neither seek nor find, unless I seek something or find something.

In English such clauses are treated (morpho)syntactically as if they were transitive.
But in some natural languages those clauses have a morphosyntax of their own; it doesn't ape that of transitive clauses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitivity_%28grammar%29 is actually pretty good.

Author:  Carson [ Mon May 16, 2011 10:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

In Faerelo, transitives end with high vowels and intransitives end with front mid and front low vowels. It also has verbs which can be either (as English does--consider 'eat'), and these are marked with an <o>. They don't conjugate any differently. The difference only shows up in the base infinitive form of the verbs.

I don't know if there's an official name for verbs that can be either; I just started calling them "versative" (versatile transitive).

Author:  TomHChappell [ Tue May 17, 2011 2:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

Carson wrote:
I don't know if there's an official name for verbs that can be either;...

Verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive are called "ambitransitive".

If their is inflectional or derivational morphology on the verb that converts it from transitive to intransitive or vice-versa, the term "ambitransitive" isn't usually applied. Instead, morphology that converts the verb from transitive to intransitive is called "de-agentivizing" or "de-patientivizing" or "passivizing" or "anti-passivizing" or "detransitivizing". Morphology that converts the verb from intransitive to transitive also has various labels.

In some languages, verbs that can be used either transitively or intransitively without any morphology marking the difference, are called "liquid verbs" because one form of the verb involves a "liquid" phoneme such as a lateral liquid (a lambda-like sound such as [l 5 l` L L\]) or a rhotic (a rho-like sound such as [r 4 R]) or some approximant that isn't a semivowel.

English has such ambitransitive verbs. They have both transitive uses and intransitive uses, and there's no morphological difference between the transitive version and the intransitive version.

In some languages with ambitransitive verbs, when used intransitively, some ambitransitive verbs are unergative -- their only remaining participant is their agent -- and some are unaccusative -- their only remaining participant is their patient.


There's also such a thing as "semi-transitive verbs", at least in some languages, at least according to some linguists.

AFMCL Adpihi and Reptigan have semi-transitive verbs.

If you look at Hopper & Thompson's "shopping-list";
if a verb in Adpihi has seven or more transitive features and three or fewer intransitive features, it's transitive;
if a verb in Adpihi has seven or more intransitive features and three or fewer transitive features, it's intransitive;
if a verb in Adpihi has exactly five transitive features and exactly five intransitive features, it's semitransitive.

The boundaries between "transitive" and "semitransitive", and between "intransitive" and "semitransitive", are fuzzy instead of sharp. Some verbs might fall into such a boundary.

I would not expect any natlang with semitransitive verbs to follow any such scheme. Reptigan is a descendant of Adpihi, and Reptigan is designed to be learnable by machine intelligences and non-human extra-terrestrial speakers, as well as humans. So all that counting is justified, in the in-story universe; and the machines would act to keep the language's grammar the way it was.

Author:  Mbwa [ Tue May 17, 2011 2:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive


Author:  Carson [ Wed May 18, 2011 2:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

@ Tom:

Faerelo verbs are, like Spanish verbs, considered to be uninflected in their infinitive forms, which are <-ar, -er, -ur, -ir, -or> (the whole vowel inventory). The <or> verbs are the versative (or ambitransitive--mine is easier to type ^_^ ) ones. Since these forms are the base forms, then there is no conversion going on to change them. Regardless of the verb type, the inflection (for now) occurs exactly the same way, so inflected verbs have no differences. The morphological difference between a transitive and intransitive clause that uses a versative verb is evident from the case marker on the main NP. Faerelo uses tripartite case alignment (I swear I found after the decision that Na'vi does, too--and still annoyed about it), so the transitive arguments take nominative and accusative case markers while the intransitives take absolutive case markers (which are also used in passive voice constructions). There is one situation where such verbs will take a nominative argument without taking a direct object; this is a nuance play that only works if it can be reasonably expected that the direct object is understood without being named explicitly (and I think the opposite will be true, but haven't yet had occasion to generate such an utterance).

Is that about what you just described in the last paragraph before the dashed line?

Author:  Yng [ Wed May 18, 2011 8:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

You do realise that the infinitive ending is as much an inflection as anything else, right?

Author:  Carson [ Wed May 18, 2011 3:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

Insofar as it is distinct from other endings, yes. In fact, Faerelo even has an uninflected form that's different from the infinitive that's used for compounding and subordination, but the removal of the infinitive ending is considered to be the derivation, not the other way around. If you ask an L1 for a verb, he or she will give you the infinitive, not the uninflected.

As with all things, it's relative.

Author:  Imralu [ Wed May 25, 2011 9:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

My latest language, Xuáli, lacks a difference between nouns and verbs. It is as though all verbs have been replaced by agent nouns. To say "I will kill you" you essentially say "I = future killer-of you". Consequently, transitivity is treated in exactly the same way as a genitive relationship. Transitivity/genitive relationships are marked with a suffix on the "verb"/"possessed noun" which indicates grammatical person, number, gender and definiteness of the "object"/"possessor"

-an = "my" / "me"

dac-an = kill(er of) me
el-an = love(r of) me
toli-an = house of me; my house

Author:  roninbodhisattva [ Wed May 25, 2011 10:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

How are agent relationships marked?

Author:  Apeiron [ Wed May 25, 2011 2:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

txmmj wrote:
Do any of you have a special way in your conlang to represent the difference between the two? Do you have different conjugations? Are there two different words of each? Is there no difference?

In mine, I decided to represent a transitive verb by adding a specific suffix, while adding a prefix when it's transitive (and I'm think about also making transitive verbs represent the passive...)

Non-rhetorical question: Why do you want to mark transitivity? What does that add or is it a matter of investigating possibilities?

i was curious about this myself a while back. i liked the idea of there being a signal to the speaker and audient that something belongs there. The trouble i found was that too many verbs could take or not take arguments or take several. That could make things tricky for the speaker. If you make it work, i'd love to see it for use in my project.

Author:  Imralu [ Fri May 27, 2011 9:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Transitive vs. Intransitive

roninbodhisattva wrote:
How are agent relationships marked?

If that was directed at me, I'm not sure exactly what you're asking. Can you rephrase it or give me a couple of simple sentences to translate to demonstrate what you want to know?

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