Ergativity, or traces of it, in N.Am. pidgins?

David Robertson drobert at TINCAN.TINCAN.ORG
Sun Mar 14 01:28:28 UTC 1999


This is a thought I've not had before; consequently, it's not well
considered.  But perhaps you linguists will be interested in considering

ChInuk Wawa largely derives from Chinookan languages.  (In fact it has
been suggested that a label "Pidgin Chinook" would be more accurate.)
Chinookan languages, as well as Salishan and many other languages of the
Northwest --Wakashan as well?-- are ergative(-absolutive) in nature,
rather than accusative(-nominative).

Do you feel that ChInuk Wawa shows much trace of ergativity in its
structure?  If so, does that reflect a preponderance of influence from
indigenous languages over European language influence?

To extend my question, does Mobilian Jargon, Delaware/Unami Jargon, or
Eskimo Jargon show ergative features?  At least one of the named source
languages for these ("Eskimo") certainly is ergative in its grammar.

To offer a contrasting question, do pidgins tend toward accusativity at
the expense of ergativity?  Do "word-order" languages, those which have
little or no morphological case-marking, also tend toward accusativity?
Would this tend to support an argument that languages of the world are
underlyingly accusative?

(I do not often think in terms of transformational grammar, let it be
admitted.  Reading Silverstein's [1976] "Hierarchy of Features and
Ergativity" is the immediate stimulus to these thoughts.  There he
discusses the hypothesis that all languages are underlyingly accusative,
and "that apparently ergative languages are really accusative languages
with obligatory passive expression of transitive sentences."  [114]
Another idea that I have in mind here is the notion that pidgins and
creoles can show us something of the nature of human language and the
acquisition thereof.  Also, some of Sally Thomason's work has used the
idea that certain structural features of CJ may show us something about
the degree of indigenous input into the formation of the language.  My
question is inspired by each of these suggestions.)

Ikta ma tEmtEm?

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