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Re: Ergativity

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Sunday, August 10, 2003, 15:03
Nik Taylor wrote at 2003-08-09 22:37:02 (-0500)
 > Chris Bates wrote:
 > >  If the languages does indeed mark it:
 > >
 > > 2. Robert-<erg> cooked.
 > >
 > > without an abs than it is not actually an ergative language at all.
 > Uh, yes it is.  It depends on the language.  Many undebatably
 > accusative languages allow you to drop arguments.  In Japanese, for
 > example, you can freely drop the nominative or the accusative or
 > both, if clear from context.  There's no reason an ergative
 > language can't do the same.
 > Besides which, ergativity is not a black-or-white category.  A
 > language can have ergative marking on nouns, but accusative syntax,
 > for example.

Yes, there's a passage in _Describing Morphosyntax_ which might be
worth quoting here:

 | At this point we are prepared to provide a broader characterization
 | of ergativity.  The broadest possible definition of ergativity is
 | the following:
 |      An ergative/absolutive system is any morphosyntactic system
 |      which unites S and P as opposed to A.
 | This definition refers to _systems_ (i.e., case marking, verb
 | agreement, etc.), not languages.  The term "ergative language" is
 | simply an informal term that refers to languages that have an
 | ergative case-marking system on full noun phrases in basic clauses
 | (e.g. Eskimo languages), or exhibit an ergative system of verb
 | agreement and no case marking on noun phrases (e.g., Mayan
 | languages).  Ergativity itself is merely a convenient way of
 | conceptualizing some aspects of the clause structure of some
 | languages.  It is not a holistic typology that necessarily makes a
 | wide range of predictions concerning other aspects of a language's
 | grammatical structure.