ergativity arising

Christopher D. Manning cmanning at SULTRY.ARTS.USYD.EDU.AU
Wed Feb 4 22:19:28 UTC 1998

On 2 February 1998, John Myhill wrote:
 > I am vaguely developing a theory about ergativity and word order based
 > on observations from Austronesian languages

 > Basically, they (all?)
 > have some kind of construction with ergative/passive morphology (e.g.
 > direct object like intransitive subject, transitive subject different but
 > occurring
 > much more frequently than, e.g. the English passive.

 > For
 > example, there are di-constructions in Indonesian with postverbal patients
 > which could not be translated into Javanese with the di-construction but
 > rather has to use the `active' construction. Here's a clear pair:
 >         INDONESIAN
 >         Dengan  sigap   disambarnya     kayu ela...
 >         with    quick   seize   yardstick
 >         `Quickly, he seized a yardstick...'
 > (Suman 1978:161)
 >         JAVANESE
 >         Gage wae        deweke  ndudut  kacune...
 >         quickly she     pull-out        her-handkerchief
 >         `Quickly, she pulled out her handkerchief...'
 > (Brata 1979:167-8)

I found John's discussion (omitted) really interesting.  But I think a
problem is lumping together all uses of di- as "the di- passive-ergative
construction".  I suspect that the fact that some Indonesian
di-constructions cannot be translated into Javanese di-constructions
reflects the ambiguous status of the di-construction between passive and
ergative in Indonesian.

In a paper that I've been writing with I Wayan Arka, we argue that while
all uses of di- license the Patient to be the surface subject, some are
Passive (in the sense that the Agent becomes an oblique and transitivity
is decreased by one) while others are Ergative (in the sense that the
Agent remains a core argument and transitivity is unchanged -- one just
sees a different linking between thematic roles and surface positions).
In particular, we argue that the ones with pronominal clitic -nya are
ergative not passive, and hence you get, for example, very different
behaviour with reflexives: the clitic -nya can act as antecedent for a
reflexive, while an oblique PP expression of an agent can't.

        Dirinya tidak di-perhatikan-nya
        self.3  NEG   di-care      -3
        `(S)he didn't take care of self.'

        *Dirinya di-serahkan  ke Polisi oleh Amir
         self.3  di-surrender to police by   Amir
        *`Self was surrendered to Police by Amir.'

I think such an understanding of the ambiguity of uses of di- in
Indonesian might shed some light on the observations above.


Christopher Manning <cmanning at>

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