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Phonological correlates of transitive/intransitive distinction.

Whatever this distinction is in Tamil, it is not only a semantic/syntactic one, but also in some cases a phonological one, i.e., a transitive verb is distinguishable from an intransitive one, in some cases, by its phonological characteristics.

In English we also have pairs like `rise' and `raise' (`cause to rise'), `sit' and `set' (`cause to sit'), `fall' and `fell' (`cause to fall'), `lie' and `lay' (`cause to lie'), `drink' and 'drench' (`cause to drink'), but aside from this small list, there are few others. Many English verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, e.g., `hang' (`be suspended') and `hang' (`suspend' something).

In Tamil there are many more sets like these English pairs, and it appears that historically this distinction may have been pervasive and all-inclusive, at least from the evidence in Proto-(South) Dravidian. However, in the development of the language some of the phonological characteristics have become lost or obliterated. Some, nevertheless, do remain and still function.

Vasu Renganathan
Sat Nov 2 21:16:08 EST 1996