ergatives and topics

Andrej Malchukov andrej_malchukov at EVA.MPG.DE
Wed Jul 16 09:35:42 UTC 2008

Another scenario for (some of the) cases mentioned, which I am more 
sympathetic with, is that the ergative markers originate from discourse 
markers, in particular, focus markers. I discuss the phenomenon of 
"focal ergativity" in a recent paper (“Animacy and asymmetries in 
differential case marking”. /Lingua/ 118 (2008), 203-221, where I also 
mention Meithei and refer to further literature), and Bill McGregor 
published numerous articles on similar phenomena (which he calls 
"optional ergativity"). This is of course not incompatible with what 
Alec Coupe suggests, as the discourse marker might start to be used 
first for disambiguation purposes (hence "optional ergativity"), and 
later become grammaticalized into regular ergative markers.
best regards,
Andrej Malchukov

Alec Coupe wrote:
> Dear Claire,
> From a distinctly Tibeto-Burman perspective, another possibility is that
> an oblique case marker (typically an instrumental or ablative) develops
> a number of extended functions, some of which are pragmatic. The
> reanalysed morpheme may be employed in a more abstract function to
> disambiguate the semantic roles of two core arguments of a transitive
> clause (especially when both referents are animate), to mark a
> contrastive topic, to encode that a referent is acting in a socially
> marked manner, or to signal that a referent is acting with increased
> agentivity in a given instance of reporting. These pragmatic marking
> functions are variously demonstrated by agentive markers in Ao, Meithei
> and Tibetan; similar motivations for core case marking are also reported
> in some Papuan languages. I assume that the non-systematic use of core
> case marking encountered in TB languages - particularly in Ao and
> Meithei - is not representative of morphological ergativity (in the
> sense of Dixon 1994), but plausibly might provide a pathway for the
> development of a canonical ergative marking pattern, such as that
> reported in Dolakha Newar (Genetti 2007). Thus, it seems more likely (at
> least in TB languages) that pragmatically-motivated marking provides a
> source for canonical ergative marking, rather than the converse.
> Pragmatic uses of agentive/ergative markers are discussed in the
> following publications:
> Anderson, Neil and Martha Wade. 1988. Ergativity and control in Folopa.
> 'Language and linguistics in Melanesia' 19:1-16.
> Chelliah, Shobhana. 1997. 'A Grammar of Meithei' (Mouton Grammar Library
> 17). 	Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
> Coupe, A.R. 'A grammar of Mongsen Ao' (Mouton Grammar Library 39).
> Berlin 	and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 
> Foley, William A. 1986. 'The Papuan languages of New Guinea.' Cambridge:
> Cambridge University Press.
> Tournadre, Nicolas. 1991. The rhetorical use of the Tibetan ergative.
> 'Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area' 14.1: 93-108.
> Other references:
> Dixon, R.M.W. 1994. 'Ergativity' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
> Genetti, Carol. 2007. 'A grammar of Dolakha Newar (Mouton Grammar
> Library 	40). Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
> Kind regards,
> Alec
> ---
> Alec Coupe, PhD
> Linguistics Program
> La Trobe University
> Victoria 3086
> Australia
> Tel  +61 3 9479-3297
> Fax +61 3 9479-1520
> web page:
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG]
> On Behalf Of Claire Bowern
> Sent: Sunday, 13 July 2008 8:24 PM
> Subject: ergatives and topics
> Hello everyone,
> I'm collecting examples of ergative case markers being reanalysed as 
> topic or focus markers. I know of the Jingulu case as described by Rob 
> Pensalfini, but other examples would be useful.
> Thanks,
> Claire Bowern

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