Query on Ergatives in South America and New Guinea

Annie Montaut Annie.Montaut at EHESS.FR
Wed Aug 15 10:40:09 UTC 2001

sorry to answer late to Enrique's query on ergatives, I was away
Here are some elements about the relation of ergative marker with other cases
in Indo-aryan languages:  the ergative marker is generally specific (a
postposition used only for the agent of a transitive verb in the perfective
(accomplished) aspect : for instance Hindi ne. In northern dialects like
Garhwali (central Himalaya), la is used instead of ne, probably related to the
dative laa.
But in Marathi the same marker ne is used 1) for marking the agent of a
canonical +ergative Verb (he-ne negation sleep-Passive « he cannot sleep) or for
the instrument and inanimate cause 3) for marking the subject of transitive or
intransitive verbs in certain moods (potential, optative, obligative),
1 tyâne gânî mhaTlî, he-erg song-npl sing-past-npl « he sang songs »
2 vâryâne Dzhâda tuTTât, wind-instr branch-npl break-pres-npl, « the branches
break by/because of the wind »
3 tyâne kâma karâwit, he-erg work-npl do-opt-npl, « he may do the jobs »
4 tyâne basâwe, he-erg sit-opt-nsg, « he may sit », tyâne dzâwe, he-erg
go-opt-nsg « he may go »
5 tyâne patra lihilî pâhidzet, he-erg letter-npl write-past.participle.npl
must-npl, « he must write letters »
6 tyâne ghari gela pâhidze, he-erg home-loc go-past.participle must-nsg, « he
must go home »

5,6 is an alternate construction for the dative construction (tyâlâ : he-dat)
Intransitive verbs like in 4, 6 are ‘regular’ intransitive (apart from the
limited class of the usual exceptions like cough, sneeze, etc. which have an
ergative agent in the required aspect)
historically the IA ergative developped from the passive nominal sentence in
classical Sanskrit (by me/of me this done, « I have done », a pattern close to
the Latin mihi id factum, which is also used for possession (mihi filius est)
and represents (see Benveniste for Latin and old Persian) a stative locative
predication, associating a state of affairs to a location. Similarly, 4-6 may be
seen as locating an aim in relation to a localizer (historically such patterns
developped from the sanscrit passive obligative participle in –tavyam).
more on that in A. Montaut ‘l’ergativité en Indo-Aryen : an active process
controled by its agent or a stative locative predication ?’, in L’Ergativité,
Recherches linguistiques de Vincennes 1998 (ed. Lea Nash)
Marathi examples from R.Pandharipande’s Marathi Descriptive Grammar, Routledge


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