The ergativity parameter

Research output: Working paper


Within the field of syntactic typology, which seeks to describe and classify the range of grammatical phenomena extant in the world’s languages, one of the most important problems is whether or not a given language is ergative. Within a generative approach, a further problem is accounting for the existence of ergative languages by the definition of what may be termed an ‘ergativity parameter’. This question is further complicated by the fact that ergative languages in
themselves do not represent a uniform pattern. Rather, the term ‘ergative languages’ might more aptly be replaced by a wording such as ‘languages which display certain ergative characteristics’. In fact, as has been noted by Dixon 1994, most languages which have received the label ‘ergative’ in the literature display both ergative and accusative characteristics. Thus, the casemarking system may be ergative, while the agreement system is accusative, or both may be ergative, while interclausal coreference properties pattern accusatively, or, each of these phenomena may vary depending on other factors (the phenomenon known as split ergativity, cf section 2.3). For this reason it makes little sense to define a parameter which simultaneously causes an ergative and excludes an accusative alignment. Rather, a parameter for ergativity should be concerned with accounting for the fact that a given language may display a certain amount of ergative behaviour, regardless of whether this behaviour pervades the entire grammar of the language or is restricted to a single subdomain (be it a single grammatical phenomenon, or a single construction).


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Publication categoryResearch

Publication series

NameWorking Papers, Lund University, Dept. of Linguistics

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

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