Nik wrote :

David G. Durand wrote:
> >   A, S, P together: rare system, no case or dependable syntactic marking of
> > argument roles. I've never seen examples of this, but it's claimed to
> > exist, and depends heavily on context or paraphrase to distinguish agent
> > and patient.
> I've read of a language which I guess would fit in that catagory.
> There's no distinction on the noun, but there are 20 different genders,
> and the verb agrees with the subject and object in gender, so that the
> possibility of ambiguity is virtually nill.  There's also the system in
> Algonquian languages (I forget the term), where the noun ranking higher
> in animacy goes before the noun ranking lower in animacy.  If the noun
> ranking lower in animacy is the agent, then there is a special marking
> on the noun to indicate that.  (I may be mis-remembering some of the
> details).
> > Nor is it necessarily in other languages, but usually the distinction is
> > not marked in absolute terms, but in relative ones. So "the door knocked
> > over the candle" marks door as agent, and candle as patient, even if the
> > door was blown by the wind, because it's _more_ an agent than the candle is.
> Door may also be in the instrumental in many languages.

It's only a matter of knowing which argument is the basis from whom a definite process is viewed, or reversely what process is implied in an argument taken as predicate. Some languages change their viewpoint in order and stick to one argument locuted (example : active voice > passive voice). Other languages have a fixed mapping of process and allow one argument not expressed in the sentence to remain the base-argument thereof. Other languages have both possibilities : see previous posts on 'experiencer-dative' and Jap : (watashi ni wa) wakaranai : I can't understand.
Other languages prefer to stick the usual missing 'agent' as default-tag on the predicate : this agent may be considered in our European minds as 'instrument', 'patient' or else, so we call this process 'applicative' and then call the predicate 'transitive verbs' or 'ditransitive verbs' when more than one argument is 'applicated'. Too many 'applicatives' make the whole thing to far away from what predicate ought to be in our system with nice 'agents' and 'patients' equated with inherently 'transitive' or inherently 'intransitive' predicates. When we can't cram everything in our 'pat/age', 'nom/acc' et alia then we post another 'split-something' to make it more acceptable. But actually 'applicative' transfers the case onto the predicate making a case into a voice. So the whole 'making' of predicate could be considered reversely : the missing 'agent' is the argument carrying the role of predicate like in Eskimoan : 'to act-water' = to drink, because that's what water is made, un!
like 'to water' in English. Does 'to fish' in English derive from 'to catch + (fish=applicative)' or does it derive from 'fish (=prey/food) + to catch(=applicative)' ? Let's use an 'instrument' like a hammer and let's hammer :-)  What's the 'agent' now : the hammer ? It can't since it is 'applicated' within the predicate. So it's an 'instrument' implied. But you know it's an instrument because you say you're hammering, having 'applicated' the hammer into the predicate as an instrumental case. So it is actually an 'agent' :-).
If you think what I write here is crazy or irrelevant, then you should consider some New-Guinean, Ainu, Algonquian languages as crazy and irrelevant although they are classified in different 'agent' systems.

Regarding the number of arguments (A, P, S...) a specific system (nom/acc, erg/abs, age/pat) implies, I think it's precisely a matter of how many 'applicatives' the definition of the predicate implies. For example, you say in English 'I protect my chidren from the wolf' and you think that 'from the wolf' is 'added' as a third argument, not necessarily implied ('applicated') in 'to protect'. Now in Japanese you have '(watashi wa) kodomo ni ookami wo fusegu' so Japanese consider that the verb 'fusegu' implies a third argument, which they never feel as 'third in ranking' since  being accusative it is actually the second so 'fusegu' it often mistaken for 'to fend off' by foreigners. 'accusative' or 'indirect object' is only a deixis, a feeling as to what argument we think is CLOSER to the process. A mere question of spatial reference and nothing more.  Another African language I can't remember which one would always consider the instrument to protect (shield, weapon, shelter) as a!
 fourth 'applicative' argument implied in the predicate. So this is only a matter of semantics (yes, here I go again. ouch ! not on my glasses ! :-).

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