The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square (12/13) - Ksenia Ershova (MIT)

Speaker: Ksenia Ershova (MIT)
Title: Manifestations of syntactic ergativity: disassociating high absolutive syntax from the ergative extraction constraint
Time: Tuesday, December 13, 1pm – 2pm
Location: 32-D462

Abstract: Syntactic ergativity is broadly defined as the sensitivity of syntactic rules to the distinction between subjects of transitive verbs (= ergative) on the one hand and objects of transitive verbs and subjects of intransitive verbs (= absolutive) on the other hand. The defining property of syntactically ergative languages is taken to be the ergative extraction constraint: while absolutive arguments are accessible for extraction, A’-movement of the ergative argument is ungrammatical (Deal 2016; Polinsky 2017, a.o.). A prominent analysis of syntactic ergativity involves the movement of the absolutive object to a position above the ergative agent (Aldridge 2004,2008; Coon et al. 2014,2021; Tollan and Clemens 2021, a.o.). In this talk, I argue that high absolutive syntax does not straightforwardly predict the ergative extraction constraint. Despite appearing to be a drawback of this approach, I claim that this is a desirable aspect of the theory. I support this claim with data from West Circassian, a language that displays syntactic ergativity in a range of grammatical domains but does not display a ban on ergative extraction.