Ergativity correlations

J. Clancy Clements (Kapil) clements at INDIANA.EDU
Tue Feb 3 02:23:22 UTC 1998

On Sun, 1 Feb 1998, Jon Aske wrote:

> I'm not sure that I would call the Spanish phenomenon you describe
> "ergativity effects".  Spanish intransitive subjects are more often than not
> topics and not foci.  And when they are foci they can also be preverbal (F1
> position) as well as postverbal (F2 position) or rheme-final (F3 position)
> (the same thing applies to transitive subjects).  It is true that overt
> intransitive subjects are about as often foci as they are topics and thus
> there is a high percentage of overt intransitive subjects that are
> postverbal, especially with some intransitive subject arguments with certain
> semantic characteristics ("roles").

At least one test I know of may suggest that there is a certain
ergative-like effect in the distribution of subjects in Spanish.  Bare
plural subjects can only appear as foci, never as topics. So, of all the
possible candidates for subjects, all can appear postverbally, but not all
preverbally. Casielles, in the 1996 LSRL selected papers volume (ed.
Claudia Parodi et al.), talks about this within a formal semantics
framework. And of course, the default position for objects is
immediately after the verb. However, Jon Aske is right in saying that the
term "ergative effect"  is a simplification of a complex phenomenon in
Spanish.  The point
is, however, that discourse considerations account for this ergative-like
distribution of subjects in Spanish, though stricto senso we don't have a
case of bona fide ergative-absolutive marking here.  BUT in the marking of
DOs and IOs in Spanish, there is a Primary Object - Secondary Object
marking, and this is also found in the Castilian pronominal system.  Dryer
(1986) shows that such a system is analogous to ergative - absolutive
marking.  I'd be happy to give you references if you're interested.

Clancy Clements
Indiana U.

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