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Re: Ergative?

From:The Gray Wizard <dbell@...>
Date:Wednesday, January 30, 2002, 11:58
> From: Christophe Grandsire > > En réponse à The RipperDoc <ripperdoc@...>: > > > Hello! > > A short, simple question: what's ergative/absolutive? > > I've seen it mentioned several times, and I've looked the words up in > > a > > lingustic glossary, but I seem to fail to understand it :-) Please > > give > > examples, I'm still very much of an amateur. > > > > /Martin > > > > Languages like Latin (or even English in personal pronouns) mark > differently > the subject of a verb vs. the object of the verb, whether the verb is > transitive (takes an object) or intransitive (takes no object). > So English "I > run" and "I see you" have the same form of "I", although the first verb is > intransitive and the second is transitive. Those languages are called > nominative-accusative. The nominative is case of the subject, the > accusative is > the case of the object. > > Ergative-absolutive languages cut their functions differently. In those > languages, the subject of an intransitive verb takes the same > form (case) as > the *object* of a transitive verb. This case is called > absolutive. The subject > of a transitive verb is marked with a special case: the ergative. > > So nominative languages like English and Latin mark the subject of an > intransitive verb in the same way as the subject of a transitive > verb, while > ergative languages (like Basque) mark the subject of an > intransitive verb in > the same way as the object of a transitive verb.
While this aspect of ergativity ("morphological ergativity") is the most obvious, ergative languages often exhibit other features that make things a bit more complicated. For one thing, most ergative languages are not "strictly" ergative. That is, many exhibit mixed or split paradigms that require accusative forms under certain conditions. AFMCL, amman iar uses a split ergative paradigm along an animacy continuum that causes speech act pronouns and demonstratives to take nominative/accusative forms. Another, often overlooked, aspect of ergativity is "syntactic ergativity" whereby clause combinations and the omission of coreferential constituents in clause combinations are subject to ergatively motivated constraints. This is also a feature of amman iar. I discuss these features with a number of examples at For anyone serious about understanding ergativity I would recommend reading Dixon's text "Ergativity". Stay curious, David David E. Bell The Gray Wizard AIM: GraWzrd Wisdom begins in wonder.


Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
The RipperDoc <ripperdoc@...>