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Re: Nominative to ergative shift

From:Tim Smith <timsmith@...>
Date:Sunday, March 21, 1999, 22:10
At 10:35 AM 3/20/99 -0300, FFlores wrote:
>I just re-discovered an old project of mine for a >language derived from Drasele'q. D. is a nominative >language, but this derived lang has become ergative. >Is this likely to happen? I know that PIE is believed >to have been ergative, and then shifted to nominative. >What I'd like to know is if you have any idea if the >opposite could happen, or has happened.
The opposite has happened in the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European, although only with verbs in the past tense and/or perfective aspect. If I understand correctly, the way it happened was something like this: The old perfect and preterite (aorist) tenses inherited from PIE were replace by a construction consisting of the copula plus a perfect participle, so that "he went" became literally "he is gone". This probably happened first with intransitive verbs, but later spread to transitives, whose perfect participles had a passive meaning. Thus the patient would be in the nominative case and the agent in the instrumental, so that instead of "the hunter killed the deer" you'd have "the deer is killed [has been killed] by the hunter", only without the change of word order that English requires (because the case marking made it unnecessary). Non-past and imperfective forms were unaffected by this shift. Thus they ended up with one of the two common kinds of "split ergativity" (the kind where the split is based on tense and/or aspect; in the other kind, it's based on the animacy of the agent and patient NPs). I don't know if something like this could lead to anything like the result you want, but at least it's something that's know to have happened in the "real world", so there's no question about its plausibility.
>Here's the process of change: > >Drasele'q: VSO, > Verb[ending] Subject[null_mark] (Object[Acc]) > >Stage 1: V(O)S, SVO (hesitating) >At this stage the word order changes, and the accusative >mark begins to disappear. > > Verb[ending] (Object) Subject > Subject Verb[ending] (Object) > >Stage 2: only V(O)S >The verb ending weakens and tends to become a "hanging >consonant", so it joins the following words (liaison). > > Verb [vb-end]Object Subject (transitive sentence) > Verb [vb-end]Subject (intransitive sentence) > >The previous verb ending becomes a full-fledged >proclitic to the next word in the sentence, so the >object of a transitive sentence is marked like the >subject of an intransitive sentence. Quod erat facendum(?). > >Then of course there could be another word order shifts, >you could insert adjectives, etc., but the people had got >accustomed to most simple <verb noun noun> sentences with >these marks, and they kept them even when the order was not >the standard one. > >The main weird thing about this is that the marked nouns >are "absolutive", which is usually *un*marked AFAIK in most >ergative languages. And it's a different mark according to >the person. > >What do you think about this? Comments, please! > > >--Pablo Flores > >* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * > Alexander Graham Bell's Observation: > When a body is immersed in water, > the phone rings. > >
------------------------------------------------- Tim Smith Get your facts first and then you can distort them as you please. - Mark Twain