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Ergative (was: Re: Are some languages easier to learn?)

From:Matt Pearson <mpearson@...>
Date:Sunday, October 18, 1998, 21:15
Nik Taylor wrote:

> Josh Brandt-Young wrote: > > Wow! Really? That's very cool--I had no idea there were that many > > ergative languages around. Could you list some? I know of Basque and > > > Georgian, but that's all I can think of. > > Dyirbal is the most nearly perfect ergative language (i.e., ergativity > > extends into the syntax more thoroughly than other ergative > languages), > I can't think of any specific other examples, but most of the > languages > of Australia are ergative to some extent.
In Hindi - and, I believe, many/most/all other Indo-Aryan languages - a split-ergative system is found, such that ergative-absolutive (or ergative-accusative) marking, together with an ergative agreement pattern, shows up in perfective clauses. This is similar to the situation in Georgian, I think. Ergative verb-argeement is found in the Mayan languages of southern Mexico, Guatamala, and Belize. Also, the Inuit languages (Yup'ik, Inuktitut, West Greenlandic) have ergative case marking on nouns. I'm sure there are countless other examples of ergative languages in North and South America that I don't know about. About half of the Polynesian languages (e.g. Niuean, and I think Tongan) have ergative case marking. Ergativity or split-ergativity has also been argued to exist in various other Austronesian languages and sub-families, including the Western Malayo- Polynesian 'trigger' languages like Tagalog and Malagasy. In the latter case, however, the claim is controversial. I believe that ergativity is also rampant (although maybe not dominant) among the Papuan languages of New Guinea. The only Papuan language I've ever looked at in any detail is Hua, which is quite clearly ergative. Matt.