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Ergativity: An Introduction. We know the use of cases like “Nominative” and “Accusative”; e.g. I saw him . I = nominative case form of 1st singular Him = accusative case form of 3rd singular Even in English, where we don’t see it very often (only in pronouns), we have the following pattern:
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Ergativity: An Introduction • We know the use of cases like “Nominative” and “Accusative”; e.g. • I saw him. • I = nominative case form of 1st singular • Him = accusative case form of 3rd singular • Even in English, where we don’t see it very often (only in pronouns), we have the following pattern: • Subject: Nominative case • Object: Accusative case • Then we can talk about what is wrong with • *Me saw he. • *Us ate.
More Case • As we saw earlier, some languages like Latin mark their nouns for different cases more thoroughly • Reviewing, note that we can have • Femina poetam videt. woman-NOM poet-ACC see-3s ‘The woman sees the poet’ • Any order of these words means the same thing
A simple point • Here’s an additional point about English and Latin: • The subject of an intransitive verb is marked with the same case as the subject of a transitive verb: • I ate/I saw him. • Femina poetam videt/Femina cantat (as on previous) woman-NOM sings
Continuing • Although English has relatively little morphology, on pronouns, there are distinctions: • I saw him; *Me saw him. • *He saw I; He saw me. • I ran; *Me ran • Notice that the subject of an intransitive and the subject of a transitive are identical; objects of transitives are distinct • Obvious, right? Not really, because not all languages work that way.
Illustration • Dyirbal (spoken in Australia): • Intransitive • Numa banaga-nYu father-ABS return-NONFUT ‘father returned’ • Transitive: • yabu-Ngu numa bura-n mother-ERG father-ABS see-NONFUT ‘Mother saw father’ • Compare: • Numa-Ngu Yabu bura-n `father saw mother’ • Important point:numa ‘father’ is in the same case in the first two examples • Follow up: The “special” case in the transitive is on yabu ‘mother’
Terminology • The cases in languages like Dyirbal (there are many) have different names from ‘nominative’ and ‘accusative’: • Subject of Intrans/Object of Trans: Absolutive (usually unmarked) • Subject of Transitive: Ergative • This kind of case pattern is often referred to as Ergative(-Absolutive)
Pattern • One way of visualizing this is as follows • Abbreviations: • NOM = nominative • ACC = accusative • ERG = ergative • ABS = absolutive • Two types: Type 1 Type 2 Subj/Trans NOM ERG Subj/Intrans NOMABS Obj/Trans ACC ABS So type 1 = “nominative-accusative language, type 2 = ergative-absolutive language