Colloquium: Ergativity, Again

October 22, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Maria Polinsky, Harvard University

This talk takes as its starting point three descriptive generalizations concerning ergativity: (i) ergative languages have verb-peripheral order (Mahajan’s generalization), (ii) ergative exponents are morphologically overt, and (iii) historically, many ergative languages develop from passives or perfect forms with a possessor/locative. I will first show that these generalizations are not accidental; they can be related and accounted for by the structural properties of ergative languages, in particular by the structure of the ergative as contacting a prepositional head. The attested syntactic ergativity (the ergative DP is not accessible to A-bar movement) can then be accounted for under the standard assumptions concerning extraction out of PPs. I will then show that morphologically ergative languages are not uniform and comprise two types, each characterized by a cluster of parametric features. The proposed approach to ergativity has implications for arguments against criterial freezing in A-bar movement.