Case and the Typology of Transitivity

Seppo Kittilä

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206476
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Case and the Typology of Transitivity

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Linguistic Typology


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Canonical transitive events involve a volitional and controlling agent and a thoroughly affected patient. Any deviation from this prototype may result in a change in the coding of the denoted event. Case plays a central role in this process: accusative marking of patients (nom-acclanguages) and ergative marking of agents (abs-erg-languages) are usually associated with the coding of prototypical transitive events, while other case frames (such as nom-dat/ins or abs-dat/ins) usually code events with a decreased degree of transitivity. The changes in the case marking of (core) arguments may be motivated basically in two ways. First, the changes may follow from verbal morphology as is the case with such derived constructions as passive and antipassive. Second, the changes may follow independently of verb morphology. This article focuses on transitive clauses and the changes in the marking of agent and patient arguments. It first discusses the relation between case marking and transitivity from a formal perspective, and then considers the semantics of case in transitivity alternations.

Keywords: case; transitivity; agent; patient; verb morphology; transitive clauses; case marking; semantics; transitivity alternations

Article.  3247 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Linguistic Typology

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