Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Gracese: overtransivitizing

Here are a few more sentences I wanted to blog about before I forgot them, mostly for their charm, but also for their grammatical interest:

Grace, asking me to toss her in the air: Daddy, will you jump me


Grace, hearing me drop something: What did you just fall down

In both of these cases, Grace has transivitized a verb according to the standard English pattern, except that Standard English doesn't transivitize either of these verbs in just this way.

Here's the standard pattern Grace is working from:

VerbIntransitive FormTransitive Form
To XTo cause (Y) to X
OpenThe box opensShe opens the box
StopHe stops at the sign.She stops traffic.
SitShe sits downShe sits the doll down
TripHe trips over the rug.She trips him.
Move over
I'll move over for you
I'll move this over for you

For any students of Spanish following, the same pattern applies in Spanish, with a "se" marking the intransitive forms.
VerbIntransitpattern.pattern.ive FormTransitive Form
To XTo cause (Y) to X
AbrirLa caja se abreElla abre la caja.
PararSe para al señalElla para el tráfico.
Se sienta.Sienta la muñeca.

Not too long ago I read a nice description of which verbs accept the transitivizing pattern and which do not in a popular linguistics book. Alas, I can't recall which book at the moment, nor can I really recall just how strongly predictive the explanation given is.

Grace extended this pattern to two cases where it doesn't belong. In the case of "fall down", there simply is no transitive form of "fall." I suspect that this is part of a relatively clear pattern.

In the case of "jump", there are a couple of transitive uses, but neither of them mean "to cause to jump." Instead, they mean "to jump (at)" or (in checkers) "to jump (over)", with the transitive form basically eliding a preposition. If I think of other verbs similar to "jump" in meaning, I can see some similar transitive uses: skip (vt = to skip over), hop (vt = hop on, as in a train), or in other cases no transitive form available (prance, leap).

Thinking of verbs of motion, there are some neat patterns -- flip, turn, and spin all follow the transivitizing pattern, for example, whereas skip, hop and jump do not -- but it's still a bit hard for me to see what the proper pattern is.

Here's a rough chart of some verbs in the family...
Follow patternHas idiomatic transitiveHas no transitive form
flip, turn, spin, twist
hop, skip, jump
leap, prance,
Move (over)
land, fly

take off, soar
crash, trip

fall, stumble
break, hurt, heal

get better, get worse

Laying it out this way, it's hard to believe there is a pattern underlying it (though I imagine there is, at least of a sort). At any rate, I don't envy Grace the job of sorting it all out.

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