[Lingtyp] Syncretism between forms encoding source and agent

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de
Sat Jul 21 10:17:38 UTC 2018

On 07/21/2018 11:47 AM, David Gil wrote:
> More specifically, the use of /dari/ to mark agents is characteristic of
> Eastern contact varieties of Malay; I have heard it in, among other
> places, Papua, Halmahera, Ambon, Maluku Tenggara and Timor.  And it is
> also attested in the Kirinda subdialect of Sri Lankan Malay.

The use of the ablative for agents in Sri Lanka Malay is normally
restricted to "institutional agents", like government, the police, a
board etc. This is a calque from the same use of the ablative in
Sinhala. I can provide references if required.

(It might be the case that in Kirinda, this has generalized further.)

Interestingly, the set of agents which take ablative marking in
Sinhalese and Sri Lanka Malay (institutional actors) seems to be
identical to the set where British English permits plural agreement
("The government have ...") and where Dutch uses feminine pronouns even
for neuter referents ("Het kabinet heeft haar kabinetsplannen
gepresenteerd", 'The(neuter) cabinet presented HER plans').

So [±institutional actor] is signaled by strategies involving case,
number, and gender in four different languages.

I have always wondered how a historically comparatively recent concept
like [institutional] can grammaticalize at all. I would not expect there
to be any cognitive disposition for this.

Best wishes

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