Varieties of Ergative

Enrique L. Palancar

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Varieties of Ergative

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Linguistic Typology


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Ergative case — also ergative marker or simply ergative — is the term given to the grammatical morpheme associated with the noun phrase functioning as subject of a transitive clause. In phonological terms, ergative cases are in general highly grammaticalised morphemes. In semantic terms, ergatives mark noun phrases that typically play the role of agents in the transitive event rendered by such clauses. Ergative case is used on the noun phrase functioning as A; this is called a ‘dependent-marking’ strategy. The other way to encode such an alignment is using a so-called ‘head-marking’ strategy; that is, using a special pronominal morphology in the verb to cross-reference A, which is different from the one encoding S or O. Traditionally, this pronominal morphology has also been called ‘ergative’, but it should not be confused with ‘ergative case’. This article describes the formal varieties of the ergative case. It discusses restrictions on ergative case, ergative case on non-typical hosts, ergative case polysemy patterns, and the origin of ergatives.

Keywords: ergative case; morphemes; noun phrases; dependent-marking; head-marking; morphology; polysemy

Article.  3258 words. 

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

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