Case in an Austronesian Language

Mark Donohue

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Case in an Austronesian Language

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Language Families



The ‘classic’ paradigm of case marking assumes a unique and (pragmatically, semantically, or syntactically) coherent meaning for each phonologically distinct case. A different set of organisational principles govern case in Tukang Besi, an Austronesian language of central Indonesia. There is an unproblematic genitive case, an oblique case that marks modality, and two cases that mark core arguments (‘terms’), na and te. These case markers may not be reversed and the position of the two arguments is fixed. Although the clauses with P-agreement present a clear increase in the amount of morphology in the clause, they are more frequent in natural speech, and P-agreement markers are acquired earlier than the nominative agreement prefixes. Rather than being characterised as showing nominative-accusative or ergative-absolutive or semantic alignment, the case systems of the western and northern Austronesian languages directly mark grammatical functions, bypassing the standard notions of ‘alignment’ entirely.

Keywords: Tukang Besi; case marking; case markers; genitive case; oblique case; morphology; Austronesian languages; grammatical functions; semantic alignment

Article.  2825 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Language Families

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