Split Ergativity
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Split Ergativity

In linguistic typology, split ergativity is a feature of certain languages where some constructions use ergative syntax and morphology, but other constructions show another pattern, usually nominative-accusative. The conditions in which ergative constructions are used varies among different languages. [1]

Nominative-accusative vs. ergative-absolutive

Nominative-accusative languages (including European languages, with the notable exception of Basque) treat both the actor in a clause with a transitive verb and the experiencer in a clause with an intransitive verb in the same way grammatically. If the language uses case markers, they take the same case. If it uses word order, it is parallel.

For example, consider these two English sentences:

  • Jane was chasing John.
  • Jane was sweating.

The grammatical role of "Jane" is identical. In both cases, "Jane" is the subject.

In ergative-absolutive languages (including the Basque, Georgian, Greenlandic, and Mayan languages), there is a different pattern. The patient (or target) of a transitive verb and the experiencer of an intransitive verb are treated the same grammatically. If the two sentences above were expressed in an ergative language, "John" in the former and "Jane" in the latter would be parallel grammatically. Also, a different form (the ergative) would be used for "Jane" in the first sentence.

For example, in the following Inuktitut sentences, the subject 'the woman' is in ergative case (arnaup) when occurring with a transitive verb, while the object 'the apple' (aapu) is in absolutive case. In the intransitive sentence, the subject 'the woman' arnaq is in absolutive case.[2]

  • Arnaup nirijanga aapu. 'The woman is eating the apple.'
  • Arnaq pisuktuq. 'The woman is walking.'

In split ergative languages, some constructions pattern with nominative-accusative, and others with ergative-absolutive.

Split conditions

The split is usually conditioned by one of the following:

  1. The presence of a discourse participant (a first or second person) in the proposition. The Australian language Dyirbal behaves ergatively in all morphosyntactic contexts unless one of those is involved. When a first- or second-person pronoun appears, however, it is marked according to a nominative-accusative pattern (with the least-marked case, when it is the agent or intransitive, or with the most marked case, when it is the patient). That can be explained in terms of the high animacy of a first-person or second-person speaker in the animacy hierarchy.
  2. The use of certain aspects and/or tenses in the verb. The Indo-Iranian family, for example, shows a split between the perfective and the imperfective aspect. In Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), a transitive verb in the perfective aspect causes its arguments to be marked by an ergative pattern, and the imperfective aspects trigger accusative marking.[3]
  3. The type of marking involved. Some languages (including various Austronesian languages of New Guinea such as Sinaugoro) have an ergative-absolutive pattern with respect to the marking of case marking but a nominative-accusative pattern with respect to agreement.
  4. The agentivity of the intransitive subject. In languages like Dakota, arguments of active verbs, such as to run, are marked like transitive agents, as in accusative languages, but arguments of inactive verbs, such as to stand are marked like transitive objects, as in ergative languages. Languages with such a marking are known as split-S languages and are formally a subtype of active languages.
  5. Pragmatic considerations or for emphasis, contrast, or clarity. In certain Tibeto-Burmese languages, elicited data has consistent ergative, aspectually split-ergative or active-stative case marking pattern, and in natural discourse the "ergative" marking is found only in some clauses, often a minority, usually with some pragmatic sense of emphasis or contrast (DeLancey, 2011).[4]

Examples

Hindi-Urdu

An example of split ergativity conditioned by the grammatical aspect is found in Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), which uses ergative case for the subject in the perfective aspect with transitive verbs in the active voice, while the direct object takes absolutive case (which is the unmarked nominative case). However, in all other aspects (habitual & progressive), subjects appear either in the nominative or dative case (see: dative subjects).

In the following perfective sentence, the agent la?ke-ne (boy) is marked for ergative case, while the undergoer kit?b (book) is in unmarked nominative case. The verb khar?d? (bought) has the feminine ending -?, showing gender agreement with the undergoer kit?b (book).

lar?ke-ne

boy:MASC.SG.ERG

-

kit?b

book:FEM.SG-NOM

xar?d?

buy:PRF.FEM.SG

hai.

be:3P.SG.PRS

lar?ke-ne kit?b xar?d? hai.

boy:MASC.SG.ERG book:FEM.SG-NOM buy:PRF.FEM.SG be:3P.SG.PRS

-

'The boy has bought a book'

In the corresponding imperfective (habitual aspect) sentence, the agent la?k? (boy) is in unmarked nominative case. The habitual participle form khar?dat? (buy) has the masculine ending -? and thus agrees with the agent la?k? (boy).

lar?k?

boy:MASC.SG.NOM

kit?b

book:FEM.SG-NOM

xar?dat?

buy:HAB.MASC.SG

?

hai.

be:3P.SG.PRS

lar?k? kit?b xar?dat? hai.

boy:MASC.SG.NOM book:FEM.SG-NOM buy:HAB.MASC.SG be:3P.SG.PRS

?

'The boy buys a book'

Perfective constructions with certain VV (verb-verb) complexes do not employ ergative case marking (see: light verbs in hindi-urdu). In perfective constructions, the agent argument is ideally assigned with an ergative case; however in cases like the first example shown below that does not happen. This is because the explicator verb gay? (gone) which although undergoes semantic bleaching but still retains its intransitivity which does not allow for an ergative case assignment to the agent argument (i.e., nin?). This is why as shown in the second example below, VV complexes involving a transitive explicator verb (e.g., ph?k? "threw") can employ ergative case to agent arguments.[5]

nin?

nina:FEM.SG.NOM

?

?m

mango.MASC.SG.NOM

kh?

eat.NF

gay?.

go:PRF.FEM.SG

nin? ?m kh? gay?.

nina:FEM.SG.NOM mango.MASC.SG.NOM eat.NF go:PRF.FEM.SG

?

'Nina ate the mango.'

nin?-ne

nina:FEM.SG.ERG

?-

takiy?

pillow.MASC.SG.NOM

u?h?

pick.NF

ph?k?.

throw:PRF.MASC.SG

nin?-ne takiy? u?h? ph?k?.

nina:FEM.SG.ERG pillow.MASC.SG.NOM pick.NF throw:PRF.MASC.SG

?-

'Nina (picked up and) threw the pillow.'

Chol (Mayan)

The Mayan language Chol has split-ergative person marking.[6]

In transitive clauses, verbs are framed by a person marking prefix (called "set A" in Mayan linguistics) that expresses the subject, and a suffix that expresses the object (= "set B").

Mi

IMPF

a-mek'-oñ

2SG.A-hug-1SG.B

Mi a-mek'-oñ

IMPF 2SG.A-hug-1SG.B

'You hug me.'

In intransitive clauses, the subject can either be represented by a set A-person marker, or a set B-person marker, depending on aspect.

In perfective aspect, Chol has ergative-absolutive alignment: the subject of the intransitive verb is expressed by a suffixed person marker, thus in the same way as the object of transitive verbs.

Tyi

PRF

wayi-yoñ

sleep-1SG.B

Tyi wayi-yoñ

PRF sleep-1SG.B

'I slept.'

In imperfective aspect, Chol has nominative-accusative alignment: the subject of the intransitive verb is expressed by a prefixed person marker, thus in the same way as the subject of transitive verbs.

Mi

IMPF

a-wayel

2SG.A-sleep

Mi a-wayel

IMPF 2SG.A-sleep

'You sleep.'

Sahaptin

In Columbia River Sahaptin, the split is determined by the person of both subject and object. The ergative suffix -n?m occurs only for third-person subjects for which the direct object is in the first or the second person.

ku=? i-q?ínu-?an-a ína wín?-n?m
and=1SINGULAR 3NOM-see-IMPERFECTIVE-PST me man-ERGATIVE
"And the man saw me."
ku=nam i-q?ínu-?an-a imaná wín?-n?m
and=2SINGULAR 3NOM-see-IMPERFECTIVE-PST you.ACCUSATIVE man-ERGATIVE
"And the man saw you."
ku i-q?ínu-?an-a paanáy wín?
and 3NOM-see-IMPERFECTIVE-PST him/her/it man
"And the man saw him."

Another ergative suffix, -in, marks the subject in the inverse. Both subject and object are then always in the third-person.

Direct (same as above example):

ku i-q?ínu-?an-a paanáy wín?
and 3NOM-see-IMPERFECTIVE-PST him/her/it man-ERGATIVE
"And the man saw him."

Inverse:

ku pá-q?inu-?an-a paanáy wín?-in
and INVERSE-see-IMPERFECTIVE-PST him/her/it man
"And the man saw him."

Notes

  1. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (1994). Ergativity. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Compton, Richard (2017). "Ergativity in Inuktitut". In Jessica Coon; Diane Massam; Lisa Demena Travis (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Ergativity. pp. 832-850.
  3. ^ Piepers, J. (2016). "Optional ergative case marking in Hindi". www.semanticscholar.org. Retrieved .
  4. ^ https://www.academia.edu/3887136/_Optional_ergativity_in_Tibeto-Burman_languages
  5. ^ Mukherjee, Atreyee (2017). "Revisiting Ergativity in Hindi". Jadavpur Journal of Languages and Linguistics. 1 (1): 18-28. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Coon, Jessica (2010). "Rethinking Split Ergativity In Chol". International Journal of American Linguistics. 76 (2): 207-253. JSTOR 10.1086/652266.

Bibliography


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