The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 3/4: Jessica Coon

Please join us for this week’s ling-lunch:

Speaker: Jessica Coon
Time: Thurs 3/4, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461
Title: Transitivity and Split Ergativity in Chol

In this talk I discuss two types of split ergativity and their interaction in Chol: aspect-based split ergativity (perfective vs. non-perfective), and a “split-S” system (unergative and unaccusative subjects pattern differently). I begin by showing that Chol makes an important distinction between those stems which subcategorize for internal arguments (transitives, unaccusatives, and passives) and those that do not (unergatives and antipassives). Specifically, all and only those stems which subcategorize for internal DP arguments are verbs. If a theta-role assigning stem combines with an internal argument DP, it is a verb; if not, it must be realized as a noun. I’ll argue that despite the appearance of aspect-based split ergativity, agreement marking in Chol follows a very simple rule: all internal arguments are marked absolutive and all external arguments are marked ergative. That is, Chol is robustly split-S. This is obscured, I show, by the fact that the non-perfective aspect markers are themselves verbs which embed nominalized clauses.

Though I focus on data from Chol, I discuss two points at which this analysis has broader implications. First, I discuss implications of the proposal that all and only verbs combine with DP complements. While this does not obviously appear to hold in other languages, we see hints of it elsewhere, for instance in the proposal that unergatives are always light verb constructions (Hale & Keyser 1993). Second, I show that in aspect-based splits in languages around the world we find evidence for a biclausal analysis of aspect-based split ergativity (see Laka 2006). Under the analysis proposed here, there is no split in agreement or case assignment; rather the difference between ergative-patterning and nominative-patterning clauses is reduced to the difference between simple versus complex clauses.