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THEORY: Ergative syntax

From:Jesse Bangs <jaspax@...>
Date:Sunday, December 2, 2001, 22:59
This one's for all of the hardcore linguists out there.  Recently while
working on Hiksilipsi, I came across a problem that, surprisingly,
requires a fair bit of syntactic theory for me to cause.  My question is:
 in an ergative language, which case does the verb assign to its internal
object and which to the external?

Working within the word order of Hiksilipsi, a basic sentence might be
"John(erg) Mary(abs) see."  As shown here, default order is Erg-Abs-V,
and generally H. is head-last (with pospositions, adjectives preceding
nouns, etc).  But this could be explained two different ways:  (Hopefully
my bracketing is intelligible)

(1)  Absolutive is internal, ergative is external:

CP[ (C) S[ NP[John(erg)] VP[ NP[Mary(abs)] V[see]]]]

(2) Absolutive is external, ergative is internal.  There is a mandatory
transformation moving the ergative argument to the determiner position of
the CP.

CP[ NP[John(erg)] S[ NP[Mary(abs)] VP[ (t) V[see]]]]

The second seems more likely to me, because in ergative languages the
absolutive is the more prominent argument, as the nominative is in
nom-acc languages.  Furthermore, the second analysis allows us to treat
intransitive sentences as having an empty predicate NP, while the first
requires an empty NP dominated by S, which is pretty weird if I
understand my syntax correctly.

Also, are the above trees correct?  I wondered if it might be more
correct to have CP > S C and S > VP NP in a head-last language.  Also, if
CP > S C *is* correct, then how should I explain the ergative-first
feature of Hiksilipsi?

Now, in Hiksilipsi this is relevant because I want to restrict
NP-exraction in relative clauses, but I was flummoxed as to which
argument should be extractable.  If I'm correct, and the absolutive is
the external argument of the verb, then it makes sense that only
absolutives are extractable in relative clauses.  Is this correct?  Any
real-world examples that anyone knows of?

Jesse S. Bangs     Pelíran
"We couldn't all be cowboys
Some of us are clowns" --Counting Crows


Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>