Summary: Double absolutives

Ashild Naess A.Naess at LET.KUN.NL
Fri Mar 15 15:19:11 UTC 2002

Dear typologists,

I want to thank all those who took the trouble to reply to my query about 
languages which show instances of double absolutive marking in 
two-participant clauses (in no particular order): Igone Zabala, Kameshwa 
Wali, Lea Brown, Michael Daniel, Balthasar Bickel, Maria Polinsky, Tasaku 
Tsunoda, Seppo Kittilä, Matt Shibatani, Peter Austin, and Greville Corbett. 
A brief summary of what they told me follows below.

Double-absolutive constructions are indeed not uncommon, and seem to fall 
into two categories: Those where certain verbs require this case-frame, and 
those where the construction occurs independently of verbal semantics and 
expresses a specific grammatical meaning. The latter is the case in Basque, 
where it denotes that 'the event is happening in the moment of speech', and 
in a number of Daghestanian languages where it is generally associated with 
patient demotion or other reduced-transitive contexts.

Languages where the double-absolutive construction is conditioned by verbal 
semantics include the Malayo-Polynesian language Nias Selatan (Brown 2001) 
and certain Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas (Bickel 2001); in both 
these cases it occurs with a number of Experiencer verbs - including "like" 
which takes the double-nominative construction in Japanese and Korean. 
There are also some Australian languages which show double absolutives with 
"cognate object" verbs of the type "dance a dance", "speak a language". The 
Polynesian language Tongan (Tsunoda 1981) and the Australian language Djaru 
(Tsunoda 1985) show double absolutives with verbs of possession.

Finally, a number of people pointed out to me that in split-ergative 
languages you will get double-unmarked (nominative-absolutive) 
constructions with certain combinations of arguments.

Thanks again to everyone who replied. The references they provided are 
listed below:

Austin, Peter. 1981. A grammar of Diyari, South Australian. Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press.

Brown, Lea. 2001. A Grammar of Nias Selatan. PhD dissertation, University 
of Sydney.

Bickel, Balthasar, 2001. The syntax of experiencers in the Himalayas. In:
Bhaskararao, Peri [ed.], Working Papers of the International Symposium on
Non-Nominative Subjects, Tokyo, December 18-21, 2001, pp. 207 ­ 37. Tokyo:
Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa [also
available at].

Kazenin, Konstantin. 1998. On patient demotion in Lak. In Kulikov and Vater 
(eds.): Typology of verbal categories: Papers presented to Vladimir 
Nedjalkov on the occasion of his 70th birthday, pp. 95-116.

Kibrik, A. E. 1994. Archi. In: Rieks Smeets (ed.) Indigenous Languages of 
the Caucasus IV: North East Caucasian Languages II: presenting The Three 
Nakh Languages and Six Minor Lezgian Languages, 297-365. Delmar, NY: 
Caravan Books.

Kibrik et al (eds.).1996. Godoberi. München - Newcastle: LINCOM Europa.

Polinsky, Maria, and Bernard Comrie. 1999. 'Agreement in Tsez.' Folia 
33: 109-130.

Shibatani, Masayoshi. 2001a. Non-canonical constructions in Japanese. In 
Aikhenvald, A., R.M.W.Dixon, and M. Onishi (eds.) Non-Canonical Marking of 
Subjects and Objects. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 307-354.
-       2001b. Dative subject constructions in South Asian languages. In 
Bhaskararao, P. and K.V. Subbarao (eds.) The Yearbook of South Asian 
Languages and Linguistics. New Delhi: Sage Publications. 311-348. 
(Co-author: Prashant Pardeshi).

Tsunoda, Tasaku. 1981. Split case-marking patterns in verb-types and 
tense/aspect/mood. Linguistics Vol.19, Nos.5/6:389-438. The Hague: Mouton.
-       1985. Remarks on transitivity. Journal of Linguistics, Vol.21, 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
-       1988. Antipassives in Warrungu and other Australian languages. In 
Shibatani (ed.), Passive and voice (Typological Studies in Language, 
Vol.16), 595-
649. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Åshild Næss

University of Nijmegen
Erasmusplein 1
6525 GG Nijmegen

+31 24 3616028

a.naess at 
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