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Re: THEORY: Connections Between Word-Order and Typology

From:Chris Bates <chris.maths_student@...>
Date:Sunday, December 5, 2004, 8:19
> Nichols >found that ergative languages are the most consistently morphologically >complex of any alignment type, with neutral alignment unsurprisingly >being the least complex. Ergativity also favors dependent marking >(e.g., ergative case rather than ergative head agreement), and, >apparently independently, common on nouns rather than verbs. > >
From memory, according to Describing Morphosyntax there is at least one language which displays ergative behavoir with regards to word order (and without explicit case marking). The verb is in the middle, and S occurs in the same position as P always, not A. He then says however that it would be "presumptuous" to label a language (or part of a language anyway) Ergative based solely on word order. Perhaps this is why there are few morphologically simple ergative languages? Because linguists are reluctant to classify them as such? I'm not sure I agree with this argument anyway: there's a guy who works at the supermarket where I have a part time job whose dialect of English (possibly Jamaican, I'm not sure) seems to always use the accusative form of pronouns where we'd use the nominative forms, and seems also to have demolished a lot of the verb agreement. For example, he would say "him go" instead of "he goes". I find it extremely difficult to understand him. But anyway, about the only difference displayed between subject and object in nouns or pronouns in his dialect of English is word order. Does this mean that his dialect can't be classified as accusative because only word order marks the difference, and there are no morphological markers of case in the nouns or pronouns? Of course not. It just seems to me that some linguists are sometimes reluctant to declare a system in a language Ergative if they can force the square peg of accusative into a round hole. :) Similar to the declarations by early studies of Basque etc that "the verb is always passive", to force their grammars into patterns familiar from the European branch of the Indo-European languages.