The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 2/28 - Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine

Speaker: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine
Title: Ergativity without ergative Case
Date/Time: Thursday, Feb 28, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Mayan languages exhibit an ergative-absolutive pattern in their verbal agreement morphology but do not show morphological case alternations on nominals. Furthermore, a subset of Mayan languages show an extraction asymmetry whereby the A-bar extraction of subjects of transitives (aka “ergative arguments”) requires special verbal morphology, known as Agent Focus. Kaqchikel, spoken in Guatemala and recently also in Cambridge, is one such Mayan language with Agent Focus.

In this talk I will argue that Kaqchikel’s morphologically ergative agreement pattern and syntactically ergative extraction asymmetries are both epiphenomenal, and do not reflect an underlying ergative-absolutive system of Case assignment (contra Coon, Mateo Pedro, & Preminger, 2011 ms; Assmann et al, 2012 ms). Agreement in Kaqchikel is the result of a process of phi-agreement which is independent of nominal licensing (abstract Case). The extraction asymmetry is the result of a particular anti-locality constraint which bans movement which is too close. Support for these claims comes from new data on the distribution of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel, as well as from the pattern of agreement in Agent Focus, as discussed in Preminger (2011).