Syntactic ergativity: analysis and identification


Some languages showing morphological ergativity in case and/or agreement also show ergative patterns in core syntactic domains—syntactic ergativity. The most-studied type of syntactic ergativity is a ban on the Ā movement of ergative subjects; an additional type concerns the distribution of absolutives in nonfinite clauses. This article first presents the standard view of syntactic ergativity, which is closely connected to the treatment of ergative as an inherent case. Evidence from Shipibo suggests that a ban on ergative Ā extraction does not require inherent ergative. This points to a view of syntactic ergativity centered around morphological case discrimination. One consequence is that pure head-marking languages cannot feature a true ban on ergative extraction, because ergative morphological case is not in use. This conclusion highlights the challenging tasks of diagnosing extraction restrictions in pure head-marking languages, as in the Mayan and Salish families, and of distinguishing extraction restrictions from instances where extraction merely interacts with agreement. A variety of crosslinguistic evidence suggests that agreement/extraction interactions are fully possible in morphologically ergative languages, and not only for ergative arguments. Special morphology in the context of transitive subject extraction is therefore not necessarily evidence of syntactic ergativity.

Publication date: 
January 1, 2016
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Deal, Amy Rose. 2016. Syntactic ergativity: analysis and identification. Annual Review of Linguistics 2:165–185.