ablative as ergative marker

Ralf-Stefan Georg Georg at HOME.IVM.DE
Wed Oct 21 21:30:10 UTC 1998

>In Australia ablative-marking of agents has also been reported for
>Nunggubuyu (Heath 1984: 204f), a language which is primarily head-marking,
>i.e. agents are normally unmarked, not ergative-marked.
>I suspect this phenomenon is more common though (in light of the fact that
>'source' markers can also mark agents in passives, e.g. in German).
>Eva Schultze-Berndt

For what it's worth, I might add an additional example of
ablative-as-ergative, since this metaphor doesn't seem to be too frequent
(awaiting correction).
Some of the Tamangic languages (Tibeto-Burman, Nepal) do employ a case
which comprises the function of ergative and ablative; at least, Thakali
does this (-se, -ce, according to dialect). Chantyal is reported to use the
same marker in ERG function, but I don't have any information on its
"ablativity", Gurung has an ergativ samostojatel'nyj, as they say (i.e.
only ERG, and a materially different marker), and my Tamang notes are
currently hidden somewhere.
In Thakali, however, this suffixe is both ERG and ABL (the only ERG-marker
of the language), *but* it comprises also the function of INS. It is of
course true that INS is more widespread as an ERG marker, but since I don't
find any (morphological) hints for a reanalysis of passive to ergative in
the language (which I understand as one very likely source for ERG=INS
syncretism), I'm toying with the idea that ABL may be its original
function. Ergativity in Thakali is quite unusual anyway, in that ERG is
only marked with focussed agents (similar phenomena are known from Newari).
The marker seems to have some pedigree in TB lgs., but the details are
unclear to me. So we do find the same marker with appx. the same range of
functions in Marchha (Garhwal) from a completely different TB subgroup, as
well as in nearby Jad.
It may be interesting to collect ERG-ABL-syncretisms (if it has not - as so
often - been done already ;-). If there's more to it, the
grammaticalisation of something like "viewpoint" might emerge as just
another source of ergative marking (but these are as yet only unripe ideas).


Stefan Georg
Heerstrasse 7
D-53111 Bonn

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