flipped transitivity
Posted: 20 November 2019 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4225
Joined  2007-02-26

"The new Ballast Point lager drinks like a light beer but has great flavor.”

“The document reads like a blueprint for the Gates foundation”

I was thinking about sentences of this kind, in which the sense of a transitive verb appears to be flipped, such that what would normally be the object of a transitive verb becomes the subject of an intransitive, usually with “like” or “as” or with some adverbial or adjectival phrase.

Normally we say beer is drunk, but in this case we say the beer drinks. Normally we say a document is read, but here the document reads.

Is there a name for this phenomenon?

Sidenote:
In order to examine other similar cases, I looked up the entry for “feel (v)” in the Oxford English Dictionary, in order to find out which sense came first:
1/ The transitive sense in such sentences as “I felt the paper”.
or 2/ The intransitive sense in such sentences as “The paper felt rough”, “The rock felt like an apple.”
Unless I’m very, very much mistaken, the OED has no entry at all relevant to the second sense! This seems like a major omission.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 November 2019 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4774
Joined  2007-01-29

You are very, very much mistaken:

1. e. intransitive. With complement. To be consciously perceived (esp. through the sense of touch) as having the specified quality; to produce the sensation or give the impression of being; to seem.
1581 G. Pettie tr. S. Guazzo Ciuile Conuersat. ii. sig. M5 The hande..feeling to bee rough.
1665 R. Hooke Micrographia 139 The substance of it feels..exactly like a very fine piece..of Chamois leather.
1694 Acct. Several Late Voy. (1711) ii. 165 If it feels heavy..then we give him more Rope.
1768 J. Byron Narr. Patagonia 252 The weather was extremely cold, and felt particularly so to us.
1780 C. Cordiner Antiq. & Scenery North of Scotl. 103 The air felt warm.
[...]
1966 C. H. Hayward Home Handyman iii. 62 If the hand is passed back and forth..the carpet will feel smooth in one direction.
2003 K. Slater & J. Borte Pipe Dreams (2004) xiii. 265 I’d forgotten how it felt to stand in the winner’s circle.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 November 2019 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4225
Joined  2007-02-26

FMD, how did I miss that? Thanks, languagehat, you’ve restored my faith in the OED. In myself, not so much.

So this would in any case appear to establish that intransitive sense came long some 400 years after the transitive sense.

On the two verbs I gave above as examples:
This intransitive sense of read is, per the OED, older than I’d’ve guessed, with a cite from 1731. The transitive sense (in relation to viewing the written word) was with us since Old English, with some spelling change.
This intransitive sense of drink is attested from 1617, and the transitive sense dates back to the turn of the first millennium.

Might as well go through some other examples:
This Intransitive sense of taste: 1552. Transitive taste (with respect to gustation) , 1340.
This intransitive sense of ride, 1485. Transitive ride, existed since Old English.
OED’s first citation for both the Intransitive and the transitive smell are both from Lambeth homilies · c1175. So that breaks the pattern somewhat.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 November 2019 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1405
Joined  2007-03-01

Then there’s sell: the intransitive sense, meaning ‘Of a commodity: To find purchasers’ has been going strong at least since the turn of the 16th-17th centuries. The OED’s first citation is from Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida i. iii. 353: 

Let vs like Marchants First shew foule wares, and thinke perchance theile sell.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 February 2020 09:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  3
Joined  2020-02-12

This is called “middle voice” in linguistics literature.  It often corresponds to reflexive constructions in French and Spanish, and even machine translators can recognize it: e.g., DeepL translates “The meat cuts easily” into French as “La viande se coupe facilement”.  You can get a basic introduction at Language Log (2006), followed with more detail and literature references; you’ll also find that middle voice often comes up in the comments when “passive voice” is discussed on Language Log.  Read even more at Neal Whitman’s Literal-Minded and the Grammar Girl podcast that he links there.

I also wondered if transitive usage comes first and intransitive develops later, so I looked a few up, and found that the development can go both ways, and originally separate verbs can merge:

melt: Old English meltan (intransitive) and gemæltan (transitive) fused into Middle English melten

sink: intransitive in Old English; the transitive usage developed later and supplanted Middle English sench

freeze: intransitive in Old English; transitive usage developed later

break: transitive in Old English; intransitive usage developed later

boil: from Old French intransitive; transitive usage developed later

[ Edited: 13 February 2020 07:26 PM by ktschwarz ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 February 2020 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4774
Joined  2007-01-29

supplanted Middle English sench

Damn, what a great word!  Now I want to bring that back ("Sench the Bismarck!") along with beech (plural of book).

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 February 2020 11:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4225
Joined  2007-02-26
ktschwarz - 13 February 2020 09:04 AM

This is called “middle voice” in linguistics literature.  It often corresponds to reflexive constructions in French and Spanish, and even machine translators can recognize it: e.g., DeepL translates “The meat cuts easily” into French as “La viande se coupe facilement”.  You can get a basic introduction at Language Log (2006), followed with more detail and literature references; you’ll also find that middle voice often comes up in the comments when “passive voice” is discussed on Language Log.  Read even more at Neal Whitman’s Literal-Minded and the Grammar Girl podcast that he links there.

I also wondered if transitive usage comes first and intransitive develops later, so I looked a few up, and found that the development can go both ways, and originally separate verbs can merge:

melt: Old English meltan (intransitive) and gemæltan (transitive) fused into Middle English melten

sink: intransitive in Old English; the transitive usage developed later and supplanted Middle English sench

freeze: intransitive in Old English; transitive usage developed later

break: transitive in Old English; intransitive usage developed later

boil: from Old French intransitive; transitive usage developed later

Interesting

Profile
 
 
   
 
 
‹‹ BL: OK Boomer      Thirty! ››