In a message dated 1/17/03 8:09:44 AM, [log in to unmask] writes:

>Now, there are languages that take the "topic-comment" structure to its
>extreme, so that even grammatically the *only* way to construct sentences is
>use a "topic-comment" structure. Those are called "trigger" or "focus"
>languages. In those languages, it makes no sense anymore to talk about S, A
>P. In those languages, it's a bit as if all the verbs were intransitive, as
>they only ever have one mandatory participant. This participant is called the
>trigger or T (or the focus). It is marked as being the trigger, and that's
>You don't mark it for its function in the sentence. Instead, the *verb*
>is marked for the function of the trigger! So, if the trigger is the agent of
>the action, the verb will receive a mark indicating "agent". If it's the
>patient, it will receive a mark "patient". If it's the location of the
>the verb will receive a mark indicating "location", etc... As for the other
>participants, they are *all* optional, and all marked *equally* for their
>function (agent, patient, location, time, goal, etc... are not treated
>differently from others as soon as they are *not* the trigger). Only the
>trigger has a special status here (unlike in all the other kinds of
languages I
>talked you about until, where for transitive verbs always two participants
>a special status). As you see, you cannot construct a sentence in this kind
>language without choosing first what is the topic of the sentence, which will
>become the trigger (just like in English you cannot make a sentence without
>first choosing the subject). Trigger languages seem to be found exclusively
>among Austronesian languages, and Tagalog is usually the main example given.

This doesn't seem quite right. I see trigger systems as not necessarily an
alternative to accusative, ergative, tripartite, etc. marking, but merely a
way of marking roles. An noun's role can be marked on the noun itself, on the
article (German???), on the verb (langs with trigger systems), by word order,
etc - this is separate from the issue of which semantic/pragmatic roles are
grouped together or separated. Kar Marinam is trigger, but also split-S. I
can also envision fully-fledged ergative, accusative, etc. languages that
happen to have trigger systems.

That said, it is also possible to have a system as you described, where only
a two-way distinction is made for nouns - trigger or non-trigger. It could
get hard to understand though in many instances.

According to the appropriate section in _The World's Major Languages_,
non-trigger nouns in Tagalog do happen to be marked identically, if they are
the actor or patient. So I'd posit that Tagalog is a split between:

1) that unnamed category of freaked languages that in no way distinguish A,
S, and O from each other - when the trigger is on a noun other than these
2) nominative-accusative - when there is a trigger on A, S, or O (or when one
is a pronoun, which is inherently marked, unlike other nouns). I choose this
over ergative or anything else based on these two sentences, in which S and A
are both marked as actors (on the verb), and O is marked differently:

Bukas aalis si Pedro
tomorrow AT-cont.-leave tg. Pedro
'It's tomorrow that Pedro [S] is leaving'

Nakita mo siya kahapon
PT-perf.-see you-acr. he-tg. yesterday
'You [A] saw him [O] yesterday.'

My last point: you said that *all* non-trigger items are marked equally in
trigger languages. But in Tagalog, directions and beneficiaries are always
marked distinctly. Here are a couple of sentences from the book:

Ipag-aalis ng tindero ng bigas sa sako ang babae.
BT-cont.-take:out acr. storekeeper pat. rice drc. sack tg. woman
'A/the storekeeper will take out some rice out of a/the sack for the woman.'

Mag-aalis ang tindero ng bigas sa sako para sa babae.
AT-cont.-take:out tg. storekeeper pat. tice drc. sack ben. woman
'The storekeeper will take out some rice out of a/the sack for a/the woman.'

BT=beneficiary trigger
AT=actor trigger

What do you think? I hope I wasn't misunderstanding you.

Josh Roth