passive and locative (fwd)

Thu May 7 06:33:25 UTC 1998

Another forwarded message from your friendly Kuala Lumpur server I mean
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 14:50:17 -0700 (PDT)
From: aldai <aldai at>
To: dgil at UDel.Edu
Subject: Re: passive and locative (fwd)

Hi David, could you please forward this to the Lingtyp list server.
I am not allowed to do it myself.

What Ricardo wrote is extremely speculative, including Trask's
hypothesis of the PASSIVE marker. It seems plausible that Basque's
ergative morphology can come from an old passive. What is really
very hard to prove is that the -n- infix is the marker of that indeed
ancient (if reachable at all) passive. In other words, I am not sure if we
could reconstruct by any means till any stage of the language before the
one we know with ergative morphology.

Besides, and above all, if -n- were an ancient passive marker, why is it
that it only appears for some persons (mainly 1st and 2nd absolutive
agreement) of past tense? Why is it that it doesn't appear in present
tense at all? I will be told that it is cross-linguistically very common
the correlation between passive and past tense. But then things are even
harder to explain. Why is it that Basque is consistently ergative ONLY in

I myself wrote recently another (very speculative) hypothesis for that -n-
morpheme. I proposed that it could be analyzed as a marker of Imperfective
Past. The reason of the 3rd person absolutive agreement forms not bearing
this morpheme would be then their origin as Antipassives, thus yielding
also an Imperfective. (We would have then two different and complementary
origins for Imperfective Past). This would explain the difference in
morpheme linear ordering, that Ricardo didn't mention. MOst forms bearing
-n- (I assume also,  with Trask, etc, that analogical extension has taken
place; mainly to avoid ambiguity) have ABS-ROOT-ERG order. Most forms not
bearing -n- have the opposite: ERG-ROOT-ABS (absolutive being always 3rd
person, therefore 0, that is, my reconstructed Antipassive).

But this leads us very far from David's question about the relationship

In fact I was very interested in raising another question in this forum to
try to look for explanations for this extremely ubicuous -n morpheme of
Basque. But I am afraid it has little to do with PASSIVE. I would actually
prefer to leave aside the -n- infix Ricardo was talking about and try to
relate all other appearances of -n as a suffix. I am pretty sure they
might be all related, but I still would like to know HOW.

I propose some clues here in case somebody would like to help:
GENITIVE + LOCATIVE: -e + -n ---> ABLATIVE, PARTITIVE (-en, -ean).
NOw, for some reason (???) GENITIVE becomes -en. (WHY, HOW).
Then, -en appears in RELATIVE CLAUSES.
It becomes a general complementizer (indirect interrogatives, etc.)
It is also used as DISTRIBUTIVE and PURPOSIVE (subjunctive).
Then it serves as a (not really too old, Ricardo) PAST TENSE marker.
(?????@#$?!). Question is HOW?. From subordinate contexts in narrative
(past) speech?? As a PAST PERFECTIVE FROM BOUNDARIES (Bybee et al
1994) (using PURPOSIVE -en in the way Slavic languages built their
Perfective aspect?).

Somebody knows of any parallels? (some of the steps of this putative
grammaticalization chain are quite common cross-linguistically. Some
others don't seem so).

I believe this is easier to make sense of than the -n- infix.
((Incidentally, the -ind- / -en- opposition seems to be almost a
phenomenon that occurred in historical Basque. The Albizu-Eguren
hypothesis is therefore not very interesting for reconstruction)).

Gontzal Aldai.

Ricardo wrote:

> Basque locative _-(e)n_ has several homophonous morphs in Basque grammar
> (e.g. the complementizer _-(e)n_, or the past-tense marker _-(e)n_). One
> of them is a mysterious infix _-(e)n-_ (or its allomorph _-in(d)-_) which
> appears in some kinds of finite verb forms (all of them are non-present
> tenses):
> 	a. In transitive verbs when the object is first or second person:
> 		(1)	i.	ikusi zin-tu-da-n
> 				seen you(ABS)-have-I(ERG)-past
> 				'I saw you'
> 			ii.	nind-erama-zu-n
> 				I(ABS)-take-you(ERG)-past
> 				'you used to take me'
> 	b. In transitive verbs when the object is third person AND the
> subject is first or second person plural (Basque current second person is
> morphologically (and historically) plural):
> 		(2)	i.	ikusi gen-u-en
> 				seen we(ERG)-have-past
> 				'we saw it/her/him'
> 			ii.	zen-ekarr-en
> 				you(ERG)-bring-past
> 				'you used to bring it/her/him'
> 	c. In intransitive verbs:
> 		(3) 	i.	zinen
> 				'you were'
> 			ii.	nen-bil-en
> 				I(ABS)-walk-past
> 				'I used to walk'
> These contexts seem to be rather heterogeneous, but most vascologists
> propose a common source and a subsequent analogical spread. The
> controversial point is which of the contexts above is the original one.
> In fact this is one of the most enigmatic issues of the historical
> morphology of the Basque verb.
> Amongst others, Larry Trask analized _-(e)n-_ as an ancient passive
> marker. Basque has no passive voice but its ergative construction has
> been considered --as in many other languages-- a consequence of a
> (stylistic) generalization of the passive voice. So the context in (a)
> would have been the original one, and (b) and (c) would have been
> extended analogical contexts.
> Another point of view defends that the infix _-(e)n-_ is a sort of
> redundant marker of past tense, maybe older that the common suffix _-(e)n_.
> Recently, Pablo Albizu and Luis Eguren have proposed two different
> morphemes, /-in-/ and /-en-/. The first one (that of (a) and (c)) would
> be characteristic of intransitive verbs whereas that of (b) would be a
> pluralizer, i.e. an ergative plural marker.
> ________________________________________________________________
> Ricardo Gomez
> Euskal Filologia Saila (Dept. of Basque Philology)
> Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea (University of the Basque Country)
> P.O. Box 2111.
> E-01080 Vitoria-Gasteiz.
> tel.: + 34-45 18 30 00 (Ext. 3983)
> fax: + 34-45 14 42 90
> e-mail: fvpgolor at
> ________________________________________________________________

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