Transitivity (grammatical category)


Transitivity (grammatical category)

In linguistics, transitivity is a property of verbs that relates to whether a verb can take direct objects. It is closely related to valency.

Traditional grammar makes a binary distinction between transitive verbs such as "throw", "injure", "kiss" that take a direct object, versus intransitive verbs such as "fall" or "sit" that cannot take a direct object. In practice, many languages, such as English intepret the category more flexibly; allowing, for example, ambitransitive verbs or ditransitive verbs.

In functional grammar, transitivity is considered to be a "continuum" rather than a binary category. The "continuum" view takes a more semantic approach, e.g. by taking into account the degree to which an action affects its object (so that the verb "see" is described as having "lower transitivity" than the verb "kill").

Formal analysis

Many languages, such as Hungarian, mark transitivity through morphology; transitive verbs and intransitive verbs behave in distinctive ways. In languages with polypersonal agreement, an intransitive verb will agree with its subject only, while a transitive verb will agree with both subject and direct object.

In other languages the distinction is based on syntax. It is possible to identify an intransitive verb in English, for example, by attempting to supply it with an appropriate direct object:

*"You kissed my hand" - transitive verb.
*"She injured him - transitive verb.
*"What did you throw?" - transitive verb.

By contrast, an intransitive verb coupled with a direct object will result in an ungrammatical utterance:
**"What did you fall?"
**"I sat a chair."

Conversely (at least in a traditional analysis), using a transitive verb in English without a direct object will result in an incomplete sentence:
*"I kissed" (. . .)
*"You injured" (. . .)
*"Where is she now?" "*She's injuring".

English is unusually lax by Indo-European standards in its rules on transitivity; what may appear to be a transitive verb can be used as an intransitive verb, and vice versa. "Eat" and "read" and many other verbs can be used either transitively or intransitively. Often there is a semantic difference between the intransitive and transitive forms of a verb: "the water is boiling" versus "I boiled the water"; "the grapes grew" versus "I grew the grapes". In these examples, the role of the subject differs between intransitive and transitive verbs.

Even though an intransitive verb may not take a "direct" object, it often may take an appropriate indirect object -

*"I laughed at him.

What are considered to be intransitive verbs can also take cognate objects -where the object is considered integral to the action, for example "I slept an hour".

Languages that express transitivity through morphology

The following languages of the below language families (or hypothetical language families) have this feature: [Pusztay 1990: 86–92]

In the Uralic language family:
* Mordvinic languages
* the three Ugric languages
* Northern Samoyedic languages

In the Paleosiberian hypothetical language family:
* Languages of both branches of the Eskimo-Aleut family; for details from the Eskimo branch, see e.g. Sireniki, Kalaallisut
* Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages
* Yukaghir
* Ket language has a very sophisticated verbal inclination systems, referring (among others) also to the object in many ways, (see also polypersonal agreement).

Functional analysis

Transitivity expresses a number of associated meanings across languages. Across languages, a prototypically transitive verb involves:
*A change of state in the object - for example, "smash", "open", "throw".
*Agency and volition by the subject - where these are frequently absent in intransitive verbs, such as "I sank" or "it broke".
*intensity of effect or change in the object - compare "I shot at the deer" (intransitive) versus "I shot the deer" (transitive).

Languages also differ in how the transitivity of a grammatical form affects its meaning.

Notes

References

* Translation of the title: "At the cradle of languages".

See also

* Valency (linguistics)
* Ergative-absolutive language
* Verb argument
* Transitive verb
* Intransitive verb
* Ambitransitive verb
* Impersonal verb
* Unaccusative verb
* Differential Object Marking

External links

* [http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOflinguisticTerms/WhatIsTransitivity.htm What is transitivity?]


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