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Ergativity (was Re: CONLANG Digest - 21 Feb 2004 to 22 Feb 2004 (#2004-52))

From:Nik Taylor <yonjuuni@...>
Date:Thursday, February 26, 2004, 6:04
John Quijada wrote:
> Perhaps there's a better way to put Phillipe's question: Isn't it curious > that most ergative languages (with the exception of Hindi) appear to occur > in cultures that have historically shown extreme cultural homogeneity and > cultural isolation, whether through physical inaccessibility (e.g., the > Dagestanian languages of the Caucausus, Tonganese, Burushaski, etc.), or a > strong sense of cultural identity, lack of dispersion from their homeland > or adherence to a traditional way of life (e.g., Basque, Georgian, the > Paleo-Siberian languages)? After all, look at the Australian languages, > most of which are traditionally ergative but have begun showing > rapid "breakdown" into accusative patterning in the speech of the last two > or three generations as Western cultural contact undermines their > traditional societies (as noted in some of Lakoff's writings where he > quotes Dixon).
Of course, those Australian languages show "breakdowns" of much more than just ergativity. Many of them show losses or simplification of gender/classification systems, for example. I'm wondering if 10,000 years ago, ergativity might not've been much more common than it is today, but that, over time, it happened that groups speaking accusative languages spread out, and the formerly ergative languages which they came into contact with gradually moved to be more similar to them. Thus, languages like Basque or Georgian represent vestiges of a once more widespread system. -- "There's no such thing as 'cool'. Everyone's just a big dork or nerd, you just have to find people who are dorky the same way you are." - overheard ICQ: 18656696 AIM Screen-Name: NikTaylor42