The Metaterm ‘Cause’

Exploring a Definition in Newari and English
  • Edward H. Bendix
Part of the Cognition and Language: A Series in Psycholinguistics book series (CALS)


The purpose of this discussion is to explore a particularly flexible but explicit definition for the linguistic term ‘cause’ or ‘causative’ as a semantic notion for language-specific description, cross-linguistic comparison, and general theorizing and linguistic dialogue. Examples will be brought in from Newari (Tibeto-Burman) of the general variety used in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as from English. Strong constraints cannot be built into the definition in the absence of agreed-upon language universals justifying such constraints. Its flexibility lies in allowing an indefinite number of details to be made explicit, and its explicitness, in specifying where those details belong in relation to one another.


Noun Phrase Pragmatic Inference Causative Construction Subject Noun Phrase Causative Verb 
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  1. 1.
    Since wo is a general third person singular, these sentences could all be translated with’ she’ instead of ‘he.’ ‘Ext’ stands for ‘external evidential,’ and ‘int’ for ‘internal evidential.’ Other abbreviations are the usual ones: agt = agentive (suffix), caus= causative, dat = dative, acc = accusative, loc = locative, inf= infinitive. Although called agentive in these ergative constructions, the suffix-ń does not differentiate between agentive and instrumental, agentive being inferred from animateness or other contextual features,-ń and-ύ are cover terms for a variety of morphophonemes.-ύ is realized as lengthening of the preceding vowel, and-ń, word-finally, as lengthening and nazalization of the preceding vowel, o covers a broad schwa range, dh, lh are voiced aspirate (breathy) d, l.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For wo to be clearly interpreted as animate, as in ‘I made her/him fall down,’ it requires the dative/accusative form wo.y-to..Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    ’specified assertibility’ refers to the indication that an element, when it occurs in a clause, will be asserted (together with any other elements so specified) if the clause token is marked for assertion. Thus, if only the possibility of the action or state in Q is specified assertable, then assertion of the action or state itself is not made although still inferable as intended.Google Scholar


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward H. Bendix
    • 1
  1. 1.Hunter College and the Graduate SchoolCity University of New YorkUSA

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