Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: THEORY: Ergative, word order, and predicates

From:Patrick Littell <puchitao@...>
Date:Monday, September 25, 2006, 20:19
On 9/25/06, Eric Christopherson <rakko@...> wrote:
> I seem to recall that typologically speaking, it is common for head- > final languages to be SOV (or otherwise verb-last). Does this > correlation also apply for ergative languages? I'm thinking that in > an accusative language, SOV translates to nominative noun-accusative > noun-verb, and since the nominative is less marked, that means it's > less marked-more marked-verb. Thus, when speaking of an ergative > language, in which the absolutive is the less marked case, if I > follow the same markedness-based ordering, I end up with the order > absolutive noun-ergative noun-verb, which in turn is OSV. I hope > that all makes sense; if not, my main question is: is it more > "typical" for a head-final ergative language to be SOV, or OSV? >
SOV. OSV as a basic constituent order is vanishingly rare. But anyway, the markedness or lack thereof of case markings doesn't really have anything to do with the word order of a language. The following might ease some confusion. There are three (main) ways ergativity will show up in a language: Your language could be ergative as regards case marking: you could mark intransitive subjects with the same case as transitive objects. (Not uncommon.) Your language could be ergative as regards agreement: the verb could use the transitive object agreement markers for intransitive subjects. (Less common.) Your language could be ergative as regards word order: intransitive subjects could be put in the same position in the sentence as transitive objects. (This last one rarely shows up, since it only makes a difference in word-medial languages. You get SVO in transitives and VS in intransitives, or OVS in transitives and SV in intransitives.) These three don't all need to agree; it's quite common to have mismatches. Frequently your case marking will be ergative but your agreement will be accusative. (And since most ergative languages aren't verb-medial, the third question doesn't come up.) Another thing to clear up some possible confusion: Ergativity is just an answer to the question: "How do I mark the sole argument of an intransitive sentence?" That's pretty much it. Some languages mark it like a transitive subject, and some like a transitive object, and others do something else. That's pretty much it. When it comes to transitive sentences, everything's the same. Subjects are still subjects in ergative languages, and objects are still objects; the only thing that's different is how the speaker marks (and the listener picks out) the sole argument of an intransitive.
> Also, while thinking about this, I started wondering, is the > definition of a predicate the same in an ergative language as in an > accusative one, i.e. the verb with its object? Or would a predicate > in an ergative language be the verb along with its subject?
The former. Ergativity doesn't mess with this sort of thing; subjects are still subjects. Instead of thinking of ergative languages as ones that have "mixed up" subjects and objects, it's much better to think of them as languages that are (for transitives) just like English. The difference is just in intransitives, and the choice they make isn't mixed up... they've just made a different generalization. Take these two sentences: "Jonas ran" and "Jonas died". In the first, Jonas is an agent, but in the second, he's a patient. A language has to decide: "How do we mark 'Jonas'?" Accusative languages say "I don't care that they're different; mark 'em both as agents. (That is, mark 'em the way we do the agent in a transitive.)" Ergative languages say "I don't care that they're different; mark 'em both as patients. (That is, mark 'em the way we do the patient in a transitive.)" The languages that care -- those that mark the intransitive agents like transitive agents and intransitive patients like transitive patients -- we call "Split-S" or "Fluid-S" or "Active/Stative" or "Active", depending on the details and our terminology.
> Bonus > question: if a predicate is still composed of the verb and its > object, does that mean that an intransitive predicate consists of the > verb and its subject (since the intransitive subject patterns with > the transitive object)? >
No, stuff like this isn't affected by ergativity. It's partly true that "the intransitive subject patterns with the transitive object", but only for certain things, and it differs between languages whether it's the case patterns or agreement patterns, etc. Some patterns, like case marking, are immediately visible, and we make a big deal out of them, but in most ways, the subject/object relations aren't affected. So we might ask -- and it's been asked here before: "Take the incorporation of an object into a verb. In an ergative langauge, do you incorporated the subject?" The answer is no; ergativity is irrelevant to this. Because ergativity doesn't make subjects into objects or objects into subjects or anything like that. We could also ask "Say it's an intransitive sentence. Since intransitive subjects are like transitive objects, and since transitive objects can be incorporated, can intransitive subjects be incorporated?" The answer is the same in an ergative language as in an accusative language: "Sometimes, it's complicated, ask me later." Anyway, hope this helps. -- Pat


Christopher Bates <chris.maths_student@...>