Sunday, January 29, 2012

There would be a lot less violence in the world if ...

... if all animals were herbivores.

Zebras are herbivores.

Less than two weeks after posting this, the BBC Nature section reports research into why zebras evolved their stripes. The article is here.

From a linguistic point of view and one that represents the real world, it seemed odd to me that [animate creature] evolves [feature]. There are many transitive uses of this verb. The most frequent objects of the verb, according to the BNC, are shown in this screen shot from the Sketch Engine. These items clearly belong to a lexical set we might entitle approaches, thus
[person/organisation] evolves [approach].

Most other transitive uses of evolve have representatives of the animal kingdom as their subject, the implication being that the speakers/writers accept that the
creatures manipulate their environment over a long period to acquire the feature they now have. Another example:
Several groups of them specialise in this diet and each has evolved a long sticky tongue entirely independently...
However, the verb is far more frequently used intransitively and in perfect forms, e.g.,
The character of the British countryside has evolved due to changing agricultural, industrial and recreational pressures ...
 I would say that this is a good example of the verb being used ergatively. See Wikipedia on this topic.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this blog, James, I love it!