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THEORY: Morphosyntactic Alignment (again?), and Milewski

From:Eldin Raigmore <eldin_raigmore@...>
Date:Sunday, May 14, 2006, 21:53
Hello, list.

I have been reading a collection of such of Tadeusz Milewski's articles as
have been translated into, or which he originally wrote in, English and/or

(The English title is "Typological Studies on American Indian Languages",
with the LCN PM108.M5.  The French title is (pardon me, no
diacritics) "Etudes Typologiques sur les Langues Indigenes de l'Amerique".
It is;
Polska Akademia Nauk -- Oddzial w Krakowie
Prace Komisji Orientalistycznej
Nr. 7)

There has been some discussion on-list about the extensions Martin
Haspelmath, among others, has made to the by-now-well-known (among list-
members, anyway) classification of the world's languages according to
whether the only argument of a monovalent intransitive clause is treated
like the Agent, or rather, like the Patient, of a prototypical bivalent
monotransitive clause.  (Or one of the other arrangements.)

(If like the Agent, the language is "Accusative"
or "Accusative/Nominative"; between 1950 and 1962 Milewski was calling this
type "Subjective".  If like the Patient, the language is "Ergative"
or "Ergative/Absolutive"; between 1950 and 1962 Milewski was calling this
type "Objective".)

Both Haspelmath and Milewski extended the alignment question to another
form of expressions.

Haspelmath et al.'s extension has been to add ditransitive clauses to this
mix; that is, to align the prototypical trivalent ditransitive clauses with
the prototypical bivalent monotransitive clauses and the prototypical
monovalent intransitive clauses.

Milewski's extension, on the other hand, has been to add what I will
call "genitive phrases" to the mix; that is, to align expressions in which
one noun modifies another noun (possessor-modifying-possessum seems
prototypical) with the prototypical bivalant monotransitive clauses and the
prototypical monovalent intransitive clauses.

Milewski died prematurely -- before 1967.  He developed his contribution to
typology before much had been publicized and systematized and documented
about "languages of active type", that is, "split-S" languages.  He
apparently did not have time to synthesize a way to incorporate their
existence into his typology, and then publish an easy-to-understand,
complete and consisten exposition of that, before he died.

Milewski noted that between Agent and Patient, and between what he
calls "determinant" (e.g. possessor) and what he calls "determinate" (e.g.
possessum), nearly no language -- none that he knew of, in fact -- has four
different ways to handle the four roles.

Furthermore, adding "subject of intransitive clause" in as a fifth role,
nearly no language has four different ways to handle these five roles.

Nearly every language handles Agents differently from Patients (in fact
Milewski didn't know there were exceptions); and nearly every language --
perhaps every language, as far as I know -- handles possessors different
from things possessed.

Some abbreviations will now be useful;
A = Agent of prototypical bivalent monotransitive clause
O = Patient of prototypical bivalent monotransitive clause
S = Single argument of prototypical monovalent intransitive clause
G = Possessor, or, noun which is being used to modify another noun
C = Thing possessed, or, noun which is being modified by another noun

If a language has just two ways of marking these roles, then,
* either S is marked like A or S is marked like O;
and independently,
* either S is marked like G or S is marked like C.

This gives four alignments when there are only two marking-types:
A=S=C (nominative), O=G (accusative=genitive);
A=S=G (nominative), O=C (accusative= construct state);
O=S=C (absolutive), A=G (ergative=genitive);
O=S=G (absolutive), A=C (ergative= construct state).

If, on the other hand, there are three marking-types, fourteen other
possibilities are opened up:
A=S=C (nominative), O (accusative), G (genitive);
A=S=G (nominative), O (accusative), C (construct state);
O=S=C (absolutive), A (ergative), G (genitive);
O=S=G (absolutive), A (ergative), C (construct state);
S=A (nominative), O=C (accusative= construct state),
S=A (nominative), O=G (accusative=genitive),
S=C (nominative/absolutive = construct state), A=G (ergative=genitive), O
S=C (nominative/absolutive = construct state), O=G (accusative=genitive), A
S=G (nominative/absolutive = genitive), A=C (ergative= construct state), O
S=G (nominative/absolutive = genitive), O=C (accusative= construct state),
A (ergative);
S=O (absolutive), A=C (ergative= construct state), G (genitive);
S=O (absolutive), A=G (ergative=genitive), C (construct state);
A=C (ergative= construct state), O=G (accusative=genitive), S
A=G (ergative=genitive), O=C (accusative= construct state), S

As a matter of fact Milewski knew of only six of these eighteen patterns
being attested; he hypothesized those six were the only ones that actually

Here's my questions;

1) Are there now known to be more than Milewski's original six patterns
actually attested in natlangs?

2) ObConLang: How do your conlangs fit into this typology?

3) ObConLang: Which of the above types that are _not_ attested by
natlangs, "attested" (so to speak) by conlangs?  And which conlangs?


Thank you,



Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>