Who does what to whom: grammatical relations

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

in The Languages of the Amazon

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593569
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739385 | DOI:
Who does what to whom: grammatical relations

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The chapter starts with an outline of some basic notions concerning grammatical relations and their marking. We introduce the notions of nominative-accusative languages, and then turn to canonical ergative systems. Many Amazonian languages have ergative, or split ergative systems, conditioned by various parameters (including the meaning of a noun phrase, the meaning of a verb, and tense and aspect). Paumarí, an Arawá language spoken south of the River Amazon, combines a nominative-accusative and an ergative-absolutive system. The choice between the two is conditioned by discourse factors. There is agreement among the scholars about whether Proto-Carib was nominative-accusative or ergative-absolutive: this is the essence of the Carib conundrum. At the end of the chapter we look at grammatical relations and language contact, and conclude that while the emergence of nominative-accusative systems is often due to language contact, ergative-absolutive traits are typically inherited from the proto-language.

Keywords: nominative-accusative; ergative-absolutive; split ergative; discourse; reconstruction; areal diffusion

Chapter.  8693 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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