The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Linguistics Colloquium 12/7 - Edith Aldridge

Speaker: Edith Aldridge (University of Washington)
Date/Time: 7 December, 3:30-5 pm
Location: 32-141
Title: Two Types of Ergativity and Where they Might Come from


Aldridge (2004), Legate (2008), and Coon et al. (2011) have demonstrated for several language families that there are at least two types of ergative language, one in which absolutive case is licensed solely by T and one in which v (also) plays a role. In this presentation, I propose an account of this variation in Austronesian languages as well as suggest a diachronic explanation for this variation. Specifically, I show that most Formosan languages like Seediq are T-type languages, while Philippine languages like Tagalog tend to be v-type. I then show how this distinction can result from two innovations in the reanalysis of a clausal nominalization as a finite root clause. The T-type system results from the first innovation. A reduced clausal nominalization nP is reanalyzed as verbal. Genitive case (which is identical to ergative in the modern languages) is assigned to the external argument in nP. Since n has no structural case feature to license the internal argument, this DP moves to the edge of nP to check case with T. This movement derives the well-known absolutive restriction on A’-extraction, since the object will come to occupy the outer specifier of the nP or vP phase. The ergative system arises when nP is reanalyzed as vP. Philippine languages, which constitute a lower-order subgroup in the Austronesian family, have undergone a second innovation which fully transitivized this vP, resulting in the acquisition of a structural case feature on transitive v.