Ergative pattern of imperatives?

Alexandra Aikhenvald a.y.aikhenvald at LIVE.COM
Wed Mar 3 01:01:05 UTC 2010

Dear Wolfgang,


many thanks for this posting.


As you may or may not know, my typological book 'Imperatives and commands' is coming out with Oxford University Press very shortly. I enclose the pdf of the cover - so you see what it will look like. I also enclose the table of contents. If there is any part of it  you would like me to share with you, i am happy to do so.


As always, I looked at as many languages as I could, in detail (based on the analysis of the original sources). The pattern you are mentioning in west Caucasian is rare but not unique; there are a few other ergative languages which have similar features (these didn't make it into the WALS database, I am afraid).


Best wishes



Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, PhD, DLitt, FAHA
Professor and Research Leader (Peoples and Societies of the Tropics)
The Cairns Institute 
James Cook University
PO Box 6811
Queensland 4870

mobile 0400 305315
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home 61-7-40381876
alexandra.aikhenvald at


Date: Tue, 2 Mar 2010 18:35:43 +0100
From: W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Subject: Ergative pattern of imperatives?

Dear friends,
just a brief question: Abkhaz and Abaza (West Caucasian) are known for having a rather unusual (?) pattern of imperative formation: In both languages, 'true' imperatives (that is: second person imperatives) of intransitive verbs are marked for the presence of the corresponding 'absolutive' agreement morpheme, e.g. w-c'a 'go (man)!', b-c'a 'go (woman)!', shw-c'a 'go you (all)!' and so forth. With transitive verbs, this agreement marker is missing in the singular - instead, the verb shows the 'absolutive' marker for the Objective (y- for inanimates, d- for animates), e.g. y-ga 'take (it)!', d-ga 'take (him/her!)', d-sh'e^ 'kill (him/her)'. Note that in the plural, the corresponding 'ergative' morpheme for A is present, e.g. y-zhw-ga 'take (you) (it)' etc. (the original morpheme shw = 2PL is assimilated to the stem consonant in A-function only). Obviously, we have to deal with a strong ergative pattern (S=O;A) in the singular that the marks the verb for the given central actant (S=O) only. My simple question is whether this pattern has good parallels in other languages. Also, I would be interested in learning of how to explain the distribution singular imperative S=O[;A], but plural (more or less) S=A;O. Unfortunately, WALS does not discuss this pattern in details, as far as I can see..... 
Many thanks in advance and sorry for my possible ignorance,


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze                                                                     
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Institut für Allgemeine & Typologische Sprachwissenschaft      
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Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München                                                       
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Katedra Germanistiký                                                                                        
Fakulta humanitných vied                                                                                  
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