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Lingua 105 (1998) 149-173

On the interaction of morphological and syntactic ergativity : Lessons from Kurdishti

Geoffrey Haig*
Research Centre for- Linguistic Canberra, Typology, Australian National University. ACT 0200, Australia

Received 3 February 1998; revised version 20 March 1998

It is well known that languages are not necessarily consistent in their alignment, i.e. whether they are ergative or accusative. For example, the morphology may be ergative while the syntax is accusative. Mismatches of this kind led Anderson (1976, 1977) to the conclusion that ergativity is a superficial phenomenon, largely confined to the morphology, with no further consequences for the syntax. His standpoint was sharply criticized by other scholars who insisted that the presence of ergativity was a significant indicator of a languages typological profile. But in more recent work, e.g. Dixon (1994), it is also claimed that the presence of ergativity in some domain of the grammar need not have any further consequences for the grammar as a whole, hence to a certain extent reaffirming Andersons standpoint and furthermore casting doubt on the validity of alignment as a typological parameter. In this study I present a detailed analysis of ergativity in Kurdish and demonstrate that in Kurdish, ergativity is indeed a relatively superficial phenomenon without further consequences for other levels of grammatical organization. Hence the usefulness of alignment as a typological parameter is questionable. Kurdish data is presented on morphological alignment, several syntactic processes, and voice phenomena. Finally, evidence from the loss of ergativity in Kurdish (Dorleijn, 1996) is discussed which is seen to provide further support for my claims. Keywords: Morphological and syntactic ergativity; Typology; Kurdish

* Earlier versions of this paper benefitted greatly from discussion with Martin Haspelmath, Susanne Michaelis, Ulrike Mosel, Nicole Nau, Kevin Tuite, and particularly from the comments of an anonymous
reviewer from Lingua, who later identified himself as Christoph Unger. Needless to say, none of these people bear any responsibility for my ideas, nor for what I have made of theirs. Between submitting the first and the revised version of this article, I became aware of Yaron Matras article (Matras, 1997) which looks at similar issues from a more discourse-oriented viewpoint, and which I briefly address in section 5.2. However, the reader is referred to that article for the full story. * Phone: +6l 6279 8218; Fax: +6l 6249 0332; E-mail: 0378-2166/98/$19.00 0 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved PIf SOO24-3841(98)00014-X


G. Haig I Lingua 105 (1998) 149-173

1. Introduction Despite more than two decades of intensive investigation, linguists are still far from reaching a consensus on the best way to tackle the phenomenon of ergativity. It is, however, generally agreed that ergativity may manifest itself in morphology, in syntax, or in both. In this paper, I will address the problem of how morphological ergativity and syntactic ergativity interact, using some claims put forward by Anderson (1976, 1977) as a point of departure and developing my argument around a detailed examination of ergativity in one language, Kurmanci Kurdish. The descriptive framework is based on Dixon (1994). Anderson claims that morphological ergativity is a superficial phenomenon, largely independent of other levels of linguistic organization. My conclusion is that this is in fact borne out by the Kurdish data, and is therefore, in principal at least, correct. Anderson was wrong, however, in that he formulated his claims in terms of a global characterisation of ergative languages. As I will argue in section 2.1, such an undertaking is misguided from the outset. In section 2, I introduce morphological and syntactic ergativity, and in section 2.1 Andersons suggestions are presented along with a brief overview of some of the more recent literature. In section 3-6 the Kurdish data is presented. After briefly sketching morphological ergativity in Kurdish, I will examine basic constituent order, coreferential deletion, control of reflexives and passive derivations. Finally, in section 7, I discuss the recent findings of Dorleijn (1996) on the decay of ergativity in Kurdish, which are seen to support my arguments.

2. Morphological

and syntactic ergativity

The term ergativity is widely used to describe a ...

[...I grammatical pattern in which the subject of an intransitive clause [S] is treated in the same way as the object of a transitive clause [0], and differently from a transitive subject [A] (Dixon, 1994: 1).

According to the above definition, ergativity is present in a particular domain of the grammar if S and 0 are treated the same way. But just what is meant by treated the same way? In practice, linguists have tended to concentrate on two sets of formal features. Firstly, S may share similarities in its nominal morphology with 0, giving rise to morphological ergativity. Secondly, S may share with 0, and to the exclusion of A, the ability to control certain syntactic processes. In Dixons terminology, which I will adopt here, this is referred to as an S/O pivot. The presence of an S/O pivot is generally termed syntactic ergativity. Languages in which the S category

Dixons term inter-clausal ergativity (1994) is not applicable in the present context because one of the key indicators of syntactic alignment in Kurdish, control of reflexive pronouns,, is an intra-clausal phenomenon (see section 5.3). I also eschew the term deep ergativity (e.g. Myhill and Estival, 1988) as it is based on the unjustified assumption that syntax is in some sense deeper than morphology.

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does not align consistently with either A or 0, but is spht between them (so called active or split-S languages) are well attested, but will not concern us further here. Morphological ergativity manifests itself primarily in (a) identity of case marking between S and 0, and (b) the fact that both S and 0 determine agreement on the verb (cross-referencing) in the same manner. Although cross-referencing and case marking are usually congruent, there are languages in which they diverge, for example Enga (Papuan), cf. Van Valin (198 1: 367), or Laz (Kartvelian), cf. Harris and Campbell (1995: 242). Despite such complications, it is nevertheless a relatively straightforward matter to establish the presence of morphological ergativity in a language: in the simplest cases, such as Kurdish, a comparison of the nominal and verbal morphology in a transitive and in an intransitive clause will suffice (see section 4). Establishing the presence of syntactic ergativity on the other hand is considerably more difficult, and before tackling the Kurdish data it is necessary to briefly discuss some of the problems involved. Basically, syntactic ergativity is present if it can be demonstrated that S and 0 share identical properties with regard to a number of different syntactic processes, that is, if they show evidence of an S/O pivot. Some of the syntactic processes which have figured prominently in discussions on syntactic ergativity are the following: raising control of reflexives Equi-NP deletion constraints on relativization coreferential deletion across coordinate clauses

Investigating a language with regard to these processes is hampered by a number of practical and theoretical obstacles. Essentially, there are three main difficulties: Firstly, it has been argued that the apparent syntactic constraints on some of the above processes are in fact the result of universal semantic characteristics of certain verbs and are therefore of little use as evidence of language-specific syntactic constraints. Different researchers are not always in agreement on this. Take for example Equi-NP deletion and raising. Anderson (1976: 11-13) uses syntactic constraints on Equi-NP deletion and raising in Basque and Tongan as evidence for syntactic accusativity. However, Mosel and Hovdhaugen (1992: 71 l), discussing Samoan, conclude that the apparent constraints on raising are the result of the semantics of the matrix verb, and do not constitute evidence for a particular syntactic alignment. Van Valin (198 1: 366), in his discussion of Equi-NP deletion in Archi (Daghestan) also notes that the apparent syntactic accusativity may follow from the semantics of the matrix predicate. Dixon (1994: 134-137) reaches the general conclusion that a seemingly accusative alignment with Equi-NP deletion is a result of universal semantic properties, and is therefore no evidence for syntactic accusativity. Secondly, many of the tests are clearly based on specific features of English syntax and are simply not applicable to many languages. For example, constructions with verbs like want, which display Equi-NP deletion in English, consist of two finite clauses in Kurdish and many other Iranian languages: very much the same


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construction may be used regardless of whether the subordinate clause subject and the matrix clause subject are identical or not (cf. examples (23) and (24) below). It would make little sense to extrapolate from English and attempt to use such constructions as a test for syntactic alignment. Thus the number of tests of syntactic alignment that can fruitfully be applied varies from language to language, rendering an absolute comparison across languages very difficult. Finally, while many languages do possess comparable constructions, some of them do not seem to have syntactic pivots for those constructions: the constraints found are best described in pragmatic and semantic terms rather than in terms of syntactic pivots. For example, in their survey of a number of syntactic processes in Samoan, Mosel and Hovdhaugen (1992: 704-7 17) found scarcely any uncontroversial evidence that would justify labelling the language as either syntactically ergative or syntactically accusative. Similar claims have been made for coreferential deletion in Kannada (Bhat, 1994) and for Lezgian (Haspelmath, 1991). In fact some languages do not seem to possess any syntactic pivots at all, for example Eastern Porno (cf. Foley and Van Valin, 1984: 120). In such languages, the whole question of syntactic ergativity is simply vacuous. Thus compared to morphological ergativity, establishing syntactic ergativity is vastly more complex, and not surprisingly, opinions on the syntactic alignment of one and the same language may differ from scholar to scholar. There are languages that are clearly syntactically ergative, such as Dyirbal, or clearly syntactically accusative, such as English, but there are also a large number of languages which are mixed, such as Jacaltec (Van Valin, 1981), and some which appear to lack any kind of syntactic alignment statable in terms of accusativity or ergativity. 2.1. The interaction of morphological
ergative language and syntactic ergativity, and the notion of

The first point to be noted is that morphological and syntactic ergativity are, rather remarkably, largely independent of one another: for example, it is well-known that there are many structures which are morphologically ergative but syntactically accusative; we will be examining some examples in the present paper. There are also languages in which morphological accusativity coexists with syntactic ergativity: in Dyirbal, constructions in which the core constituents are first and second person pronouns are a case in point (Dixon, 1994: 85-86). Thus in principal at least there is no reason to expect congruence between the morphological and the syntactic alignment of any language.* Oddly enough, there has been very little discussion on the (lack of) interaction of syntactic and morphological ergativity. One of the few scholars to squarely address

* In fact morphological and syntactic alignment are not entirely independent. Dixon (1994: 172) notes: No language is known which is ergative at the syntactic but not at the morphological level. In other words, there is an implicational relationship between the two along the following lines: if a language has syntactic ergativity in some domain of the grammar, then it also has morphological ergativity, i.e. syntactic ergativity implies morphological ergativity, but not vice versa.

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the matter is Anderson. In two papers (1976, 1977), he makes two distinct but related claims regarding the relationship between morphological and syntactic ergativity, which will serve as the starting point for our discussion: (i) As far as syntactic alignment is concerned, ergativity is the marked case. The overwhelming majority of languages are syntactically accusative, regardless of their morphological alignment. Anderson does, however, acknowledge that Dyirbal is an exception. (ii) The presence of morphological ergativity has no further consequences for the syntax of a language: ... ergative morphology is a superficial phenomenon, unrelated to the basic aspects of clause structure and grammatical relations (1977: 353-354), and in a similar vein: We can conclude, therefore, that morphological patterns are not a reliable guide to syntactic structure (1976: 17).

Andersons claims have been the target of much criticism. Van Valin (198 1) casts doubt on (i) by demonstrating that there are other languages besides the well-known Dyirbal which are not entirely accusative at the syntactic level. But the main reaction has been from scholars who reject Andersons claims on the superficial nature of most ergative characteristics. Particularly in the eighties, a number of scholars went to considerable lengths to demonstrate that ergative languages must be fundamentally different from accusative languages. For example Sasse (1978) and Plank (1985a) suggest that topic assignment in ergative languages is O-oriented rather than A-oriented, hence in ergative languages OS grammaticalize to subjects. According to Steiner (1985), the differences between ergative and accusative languages lies in the lexical semantics of transitive verbs in the two language types: the basic, i.e. nonderived form of the verb in ergative languages is inherently patient-oriented, as opposed to the agent-orientation of accusative languages. The most direct criticism comes from Shaumjan (1985). He maintains that: [...] the syntax of ergative languages is a counterpart of their morphology and that all ergative languages are different from accusative languages both in morphology and syntax. (So-called mixed ergative languages must have both ergative and accusative syntactic structures as counterparts of their ergative and accusative morphologies.) (Shaumjan, 1985: 312) All these authors stress that the differences between ergative and accusative languages run deeper than mere arbitrary groupings of case markers, and that the distinction between ergative and accusative languages is therefore a fundamental syntactic dichotomy (Shaumjan, 1985: 337). While their arguments are doubtless valid for some ergative languages at least, they all suffer from the same drawback: the definition of ergative language on which these claims are based includes any language that regularly aligns S with 0 somewhere in the morphosyntax, most commonly in morphology. But the class of languages delineated in this manner is astonishingly heterogenous: knowing that a language possesses ergative characteristics does not enable us to predict anything else about the language. In his recent survey of the issue, Dixon comes to the following conclusion:


G. Haig I Lingua 105 (1998) 149-173

I would suggest that there is no necessary connection between ergative characteristics and any other linguistic feature. (Dixon, 1994: 219)

(We can modify this statement somewhat by stating that there is no necessary connection between morphological ergativity and any other linguistic feature; from the presence of syntactic ergativity, however, we can at least predict the presence of morphological ergativity - see fn. 2.) Assuming that Dixons view is correct, then it would seem that any attempt at providing a global characteristic of ergative languages (and, of course, of accusative languages) in terms of independent linguistic variables is doomed to failure. It would be rather like setting up a class of languages on the basis of the feature possesses dental fricative phonemes and then attempting to describe the resulting class in terms of word order features. The same difficulty is faced by more recent attempts to postulate the discourse basis of ergativity (Du Bois, 1987), or universal features of the syntactic structure of ergative languages (Bittner and Hale, 1996), or of attempts to reconstruct a single path of development for ergative constructions (Myhill and Estival, 1988). While such enterprises no doubt do account for some ergative languages, it is unlikely that the phenomenon of ergativity, as long as it is defined in the manner outlined at the beginning of this paper, is amenable to a unified explanation. This brings us back to Anderson. Andersons claim was that morphological ergativity is indeed independent of other linguistic features, more specifically, of syntactic organization. Ironically, that stance now appears more credible than it did in the mid-eighties. If we assume, as I do, that ergative languages do not constitute a useful domain for typological purposes, then it makes little sense to try and prove any of the many global claims regarding ergative languages. What I wish to do in this paper is to examine one ergative language in detail in order to demonstrate that Andersons claims regarding the superficial nature of ergative morphology are, in principle at least, correct. At the same time, it can be demonstrated that the claims of Shaumjan (1985) are clearly wrong. I will however make no claims one way or the other regarding other ergative languages for the reasons outlined above: ergative languages do not constitute a useful typological class, and any perceived similarities generally reflect the horizon of the observer rather than any valid typological generalizations.

3. The Kurdish language: Basic features The term Kurdish is loosely applied to a group of closely related North-West Iranian languages (cf. Windfuhr, 1989), spoken in parts of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Irak, Syria and Azerbaijan. The present paper draws on a variety of written sources from one of the major dialects, Kurmanci. I am also indebted to Ismet Ramm for his native-speaker judgements on a number of issues. It should be noted that within the major dialects themselves cross-speaker variation is the rule rather than the exception.

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Before examining ergativity in Kurdish, we must first establish how core arguments, i.e. NPs in S, A or 0 function, are case marked. The following description is based on the standard (cf. Dorleijn, 1996: 10-l 1) description in Bedir Khan and Lescot (1986) -deviations from it will be discussed in section 7. There are two cases in Kurdish, which I will term direct and oblique (I ignore the so-called vocative case in -o), and a variety of adpositions. There are also two genders, masculine and feminine, and two numbers, singular and plural. Case forms for definite nouns and for pronouns are given in Table 1 (indefinites have an additional suffix, and the case endings differ somewhat).
Table 1 Case forms for definite nouns and pronouns Nouns Direct Masculine Feminine Plural (masc. and fem.) -0 -0 -0 Oblique -i -6 -an


Oblique min te wi (masc.); WC(fem.) me we wan

2s 3s IPl 2Pl 3pl

ez tu ew em hQn ew

A number of masculine nouns do not inflect for case in the above manner. Some do not take oblique case marking at all (e.g. hingiv (dir./obl.) honey) while some have stem vowel inflection rather than suffixal inflection to indicate the case distinction: bujar (dir.) - bu@ (obl.) town, nan (dir.) - n&r (obl.) bread). There is considerable regional and even idiolectal difference as regards the membership of this group. 3.1. Attribute-linking in the noun phrase

All attributes, i.e. adjectives, possessive attributes, prepositional attributes and relative clauses, follow their head in the noun phrase. They are linked to the head via a particle which I will term the linker (traditionally termed ez$e). The form of the linker varies according to gender and number of the head (cf. Table 2). Adjectival attributes do not agree with their head nouns in case, gender or number:


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Table 2 Forms of the linker according to gender and number of the head Gender of head noun Masculine Feminine Plural (masc./fern.) Form of linker -(Y)C -(Y)a -(y)Cn Glossed LK:M LK:F LK:PL

mezin (1) kur-C boy-LK: M large the tall boy Genitive attributes (possessors) take the oblique case: (2) hesp-e jin-& horse-LK:M woman-0BL:F the womans horse / the horse of the woman cotkar-i (3) heval-en friend-LK: PL farmer-OBL: M the farmers friends min (4) pirtuk-a book-LK:F 1s:OBL my book Notice that the presence of the linker on any noun neutralizes the case distinction on that noun. In other words, the form of any noun modified by an attribute remains constant, irrespective of the syntactic function of the entire noun phrase itself. For example :

(5) A

mezin] [ap-C min] [kur-C uncle-LK:M ls:OBL boy-LK:M large my uncle sees the tall boy 0 (6) A min] [kur-e mezin] [ap-e boy-LK: M large uncle-LK:M 1s:OBL the tall boy sees my uncle

di-bin-e DUR-see:PRES-3s

di-bin-e DUR-see:PRES3s

When both A and 0 are complex NPs, as in (5) and (6), only the fairly strict word order (and of course the context) serve to distinguish them from each other.

4. Morphological

ergativity and transitivity

In the ergative construction, 0 is in direct case, while A is in oblique case, unless of course both are complex NPs as in (9-o-(). Kurdish has what has been termed

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split ergativity: the ergative construction is limited to clauses in which the predicate is one of a number of different verb forms based on the past stem (Kurdish verbs have a past and a present stem). In non-past forms, the clause has accusative alignment, i.e. A is in direct case, while 0 is oblique. For both the ergative and the accusative construction the rule for person and number agreement on the predicate is as follows: the core argument in direct case controls person agreement on the predicate (some deviations from this are discussed below). The following examples, all in the past tense, should suffice to demonstrate these points: (7) c&m ez 1s:DIR [S] go:PST-1s I went cu-yi (8) tu 2s:DIR [S] go:PST-2s you went ez (9) te 2s:OBL [A] 1s:DIR [0] you saw me (10) min tu 1s:OBL [A] 2s:DIR [0] I saw you

dit-im see:PST-1s dit-9 see:PST-2s

As is clear from the examples, the S of the intransitive verbs in (7) and (S), and the 0 of the transitive verbs in (9) and (10) share the same case and govern person agreement on the verb. In other words, we appear to have a quite uncontroversial example of morphological ergativity. In fact, there is a complication. So far, we have treated verbal agreement as consisting of two concomitant and inseparable categories, person and number, both of which are determined by the 0 in the ergative construction. But in certain constructions, a plural A can trigger number agreement on the predicate of an ergative construction. This happens in sentences with a 3s 0 and an impersonal, and not explicitly expressed A (i.e. impersonal they), or an overt A that is a fair distance from the predicate (Bedir Khan and Lescot, 1986: 275). An example of the first usage is (1 l), of the second is (12), both from Bedir Khan and Lescot (1986): (11) ji min re ko ... got-in ADP 1s:OBL ADP say:PST-PL that ... (they) said to me that . .. (12) xort& ko bin-i xwend-in Q nivisand-in young-LK: PL that learning-of read-INF and write-INF di-hat-in qeyde-y&n di-b&n, D li DUR-be : PST-PL, DUR-come: PST-PL and about rule-LK: PL
3 I am grateful to Christoph Unger for pointing this out to me.


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xwe di-pirs-in, zimand gram&-ek language-LK: M REFL DUR-ask: PST-PL grammar-IND di-xwest-in DUR-want: PST-PL the young people who could read and write came and asked about the rules of their language, they wanted a grammar In (12), the transitive predicates dipirsin asked and xwustin wanted show number agreement with the A (the young people), although the verb is in the past tense. The description that Bedir Khan and Lescot (1986) give of this pattern is too sketchy to draw any firm conclusions. Furthermore, there is dialectal variation in the extent to which it is implemented, as was pointed out to me by Christoph Unger (p.c.). In fact, the whole issue of verbal agreement is much messier than it appears at first glance, and it is one of the first areas where the clear-cut ergative pattern breaks down, as shown in the data of Dorleijn (1996), which I discuss in section 7. Matras (1997) also mentions verb agreement at odds with the canonical ergative pattern. To sum up, for most constructions with past tense forms of transitive verbs, Kurmanci displays a canonical ergative patterning in case marking and verbal agreement, and can therefore justifiably be called morphologically ergative. However, under certain, as yet insufficiently understood, conditions number agreement may come adrift, such that it patterns on an accusative alignment. As this phenomenon is mentioned in Bedir Khan and Lescot (1986), who made a conscious effort at codifying a pure brand of Kurdish, it would appear to be a well-established characteristic of the language which pre-dates - and may even have been a catalyst in - the wholesale loss of ergativity discussed in Dorleijn (1996) (who does not mention Bedir Khan and Lescots discussion of the phenomenon). However we wish to evaluate it, it is clear that even at the morphological level, ergativity in Kurdish is inherently instable, a fact that further underscores my claims regarding the superficial nature of ergativity in Kurdish in general. 4.1. Transitivity The feature of transitivity is obviously crucial for the ergative construction in Kurdish In Kurdish, however, transitivity cannot be defined in the usual semantic terms of involving two core participants. Rather, transitivity is an idiosyncratic feature of a certain set of verb stems. These verbs remain transitive, i.e. the A takes the oblique case in past tenses, regardless of whether a particular instantiation of that verb is transitive in the usual sense of the word. Consider for example the complex predicate govend girtin, lit. dance-hold. The entire construction is comparable to the English verb dunce (more exactly engage in a traditional type of Kurdish folkdance). Nevertheless, the combination govend girtin still counts as transitive for the purposes of the marking of A in the past tense. For example: govend girt-iye (13) wan [...I li dawet-e 3PL: OBL at wedding-OBL: F dance hold-PERF(3s) they danced at the wedding (Bamas and Salzer, 1994: 88)

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Note that the nominal element in this expression govend does not inflect for case, even when (13) is put into the present tense: li dawet-C govend di-gir-in (14) ew 3p: DIR at wedding-OBL: F dance DUR-hold: PRES-3PL they are dancing at the wedding In a sense, the noun govend may be considered incorporated in this construction. But note that this does not affect the status of the construction vis-d-vis the feature of transitivity. Nor is transitivity affected by the presence or absence of a direct object. For example, the verb xwarin eat is treated as transitive, regardless of whether it is used in the sense of eat something particular or engage in the activity of eating. Compare the use of mm-in in ( 15) and ( 16): xwar-iye nan (15) min 1s:OBL bread:DIR eat-PERF(3s) Ive eaten the bread xwar-iye ez ter im, min (16) 1s:DIR full COP: 1s 1s:OBL eat-PERF(3s) Im full, Ive (already) eaten4 (Bamas and Salzer, 1994: 91) Transitivity is thus a feature bound to particular verb stems, and any combination in which a transitive verb stem occurs will take an oblique A in past tenses, regardless of the meaning of the particular clause.

5. Syntactic ergativity in Kurdish Ergativity in Kurdish has attracted the attention of general linguists mainly because it is one of the few instances where the emergence and decay of ergativity in a language can be reconstructed with a fair degree of reliability (see for discussion Pirejko, 1979; Bynon, 1980; Dixon, 1994: 191; Dorleijn, 1996: 74-77). These studies have all concentrated on morphological ergativity, the general tenor being that Kurdish is not syntactically ergative anyway. Apart from a short article by Matras (1992/1993) and some discussion based on that article in Dorleijn (1996), there has been no attempt to portray those aspects of syntax which are relevant to the question of syntactic ergativity. In section 2.1 above I have already mentioned some of the difficulties involved with the notion of syntactic ergativity. Many of the usual tests are not readily applicable to Kurdish: there are no raising constructions with verbs comparable to English
Note that (16) demonstrates that the 0 may be omitted from an ergative construction in Kurdish. Yet Shaumjan (1985: 314) considers the non-omissability of Os to be a defining feature of ergative constructions.


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seem, and constructions

with verbs such as begin and want are of doubtful value on semantic grounds. A possible candidate would be constraints on relativization, but a cursory examination of relativization in Kurdish shows that it operates in a similar manner to English, i.e. has no constraints statable in terms of syntactic functions. In this section I will deal with three practicable tests for syntactic ergativity: basic constituent order, coreferential deletion across coordinate clauses, and control of reflexives. In section 5.4 I will briefly discuss the passive derivation in Kurdish.

5.1. Constituent order in transitive clauses In both the accusative construction and the ergative construction, the relative positioning of A and 0 is identical: (17) Accusative construction: A 0 V ez nCn di-xw-im 1s:DIR bread:OBL DUR-eat:PRES-1s I am eating the bread (18) Ergative construction: A 0 v min nan xwar 1s:OBL bread eat:PST(3s) I ate the bread Word order in transitive sentences cannot be stated in terms of surface case. It can, however, be stated in terms of the basic syntactic functions A and 0: A-O-V. Fronting an 0 is possible in pragmatically marked utterances - several authentic examples from spoken Kurdish are quoted in Matras (1992/1993: 145-146). For example the following utterance is part of a dialogue. The questioner asks whether the speaker, a Jew, had eaten meat whilst visiting his non-Jewish neighbours, thereby contravening the religious laws regarding non-Kosher meat (Matras, 1992/1993: 146): (19) Qu. Q gogt? and meat? An. GoSt me ne-ti-xward meat [0] lp-OBL [A] NEG-DUR-eat:PAST(3s) Qu. and meat? An. meat we didnt eat Although the examples given by Matras are all instances of ergative constructions, i.e. the fronted 0 is in the direct case, fronting an 0 in the oblique case is also possible, as in: (20) we pirtuk-e [pause] ez di-kir-im 1s:DIR DUR-buy:PRES-1s DEM: OBL book-OBL that book Ill buy

G. Haig

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Note, however, that the existence of O-A-V constructions with both ergative and accusative alignment is an extremely restricted phenomenon. According to Dorleijn (1996: 91-92), O-fronting is not possible at all with pronominal OS, and my informant only accepted fronted OS which were followed by a distinct pause. Thus the existence of O-A-V constructions is no evidence in itself that the 0 in the ergative construction has acquired word order properties typical of subjects. Examples like (17) tell us no more about syntactic alignment in Kurdish than sentences like kippers I cant stand tell us about them in English. I conclude that the basic constituent order in Kurdish is A-O-V, regardless of the case marking of the NPs concerned. 5.2. Coreferential deletion across coordinate clauses It is well-known that different types of coordination may be subject to different constraints. I will restrict the investigation to coordinate clauses linked by the conjunction Li and. First of all, we may examine the coordination of a transitive clause and an intransitive clause, when both clauses are in the present tense (21), and both are in the past tense (22) : (21) jini cotkar-ij di-bin-e u page 0, / 0j tere go.PRES(3s) woman farmer-OBL DUR-see:PRES-3s and then bazar-& market-OBL the woman sees/meets the farmer then 0 goes to the market (22) jin-ei cotkarj dit Q page 0zJ, / *0j $Q woman-OBL farmer see:PST(3s) and then go.PST(3s) bazar-e market-OBL the woman saw/met the farmer and then 0 went to the market In both (21) and (22), the A of the first clause controls deletion in the second clause, just as it does in the English translations given. Any other interpretation is impossible. Thus the fact that the As in the two clauses have different morphological cases is irrelevant for this process. Consider now coordination with an intransitive first clause and a transitive second one, again in present tense in (23) and in past tense in (24): tere bazar-& (23) ew jini Q 0i cotkar-i DEM:DIR woman go:PRES(3s) market-OBL and farmer-OBL di-bin-e DUR-see:PRES-3s this woman goes to market and 0 sees the farmer & (24) ew bazar-i? jini A 0, cotkar DEM:DIR woman:DIR g:PST(3s) market-OBL znd farmer : DIR dit see:PST(3s) this woman went to market and 0 saw the farmer


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Again, deletion of the A in the second clause is possible under the condition that it is coreferential with the S of the preceding clause. In the two sentences, the deleted A would have taken two different cases, direct in the first and oblique in the second, but deletion is nevertheless possible. While these facts are relatively uncontroversial, and examples of the relevant constructions may be found in written texts, it should be noted that the native speakers I have consulted on examples such as (21) and (22) do not feel equally comfortable with deletion of the pronoun in the two examples: deletion in (21) is unanimously preferred, while it is only tolerated in (22), and some feel that supplying the oblique pronoun in (22) would be more felicitous. One might consider this as evidence against an S/A pivot, but I do not think this is the case. What seems to be the relevant factor is something we could call a same-case preference on deletion. It is evident for example in the subordinate clauses following the modal verb xwastin want. The verb xwastin is transitive, so in past tenses, the A is oblique, but in present tenses it is direct. The subordinate clause that follows xwastin is, however, invariably subjunctive, and therefore has accusative alignment (subjunctives are formed from the present stem of the verb). Consider the following two sentences, identical except for the tense of the matrix verb

(25) min

xwast (ku ez) te 1s:OBL want:PST that 1s:DIR 2s:OBL I wanted to see you ez di-xwaz-im (ku ez) (26) 1s:DIR DUR-want:PRES-1s that 1s:DIR I want to see you

bi-bin-im MOD-see : PRES- 1s te 2s:OBL bi-bin-im MOD-see:PRES-1s

There is a marked difference in the readiness with which the bracketed conjunction + pronoun may be deleted: in (26), deletion is the vastly preferred option. In (25), it is possible, but not preferred. This has little to do with a pivot constraint, as the NPs under consideration in both matrix and subordinate clause are As. It is also not a strict rule, but a matter of preference. Thus to the the extent that coreferential deletion is at least partially sensitive to the surface form of the target of deletion, morphology does indeed affect syntax. The same-case preference manifests itself in the readiness with which pronouns are deleted, and this preference may at times be in conflict with the S/A pivot. However, the same-case preference will never dominate to the extent that it permits an S/Opivot in coreferential deletion. Even when an S is followed by a coreferent 0 in the same case, deletion is not possible: (27) ewi A bazar-e A cotkar-i 0i / ew 3s:DIR L:PST(3s) market-OBL ind farmer-OBL 3s:DIR dit see:PST(3s) shei went to the market and the farmer saw 0i / her
5 Haspelmath (1991: 11) notes a similar effect in coreferential deletion in Lezgian.

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Thus with coreferential deletion, the S/A pivot is somewhat less clear than elsewhere in the grammar. I have suggested that the chief source of the wrinkle is what I have termed a same-case preference. However, it should be emphasised that this is a preference, not a strict rule, and pronoun deletion in examples such as (24), where the same-case condition is violated, is still possible. In a very recent contribution, Matras (1997) examines coreferential pronoun deletion in a variety of complex constructions, using data from spoken Kurmanci which diverge considerably from the written standard. Unfortunately, he only discusses coreferential deletion with 1s and 3s pronouns, which is a pity, as one would have liked to learn more about the second person, and plurals generally. Matras mentions (1997: 620) that in Dorleijns (1996) data, second singular and third plural no longer mark the case distinction, making them less interesting objects of investigation, but it is unclear how that affects verb agreement, and it is also unclear whether the same pattern occurred in Matras own data (my informants still preserved the case distinction). In fact, third person seems an odd choice, because verb agreement is the default or zero marking, and because, in Matras data, the case distinction is not systematically preserved on third singular pronouns. Three factors are identified which determine the likelihood of coreferential pronoun deletion (and, related to that, deletion of the conjunction ku) in subordinate or conjoined clauses: (i) transitivity of the two clauses. Deletion is most usual when the clauses are equal in transitivity; (ii) person. Deletion is commonest when the target of deletion is 3s and less common with 1s; (iii) the degree of syntactic integration of the two clauses. The more closely integrated, the more likely deletion will occur. Maximally integrated clauses are, for example, the subjunctive complements of modals such as want, minimally integrated are coordinate constructions such as in (24). As far as (ii) is concerned, it should be stressed that in the variety of Kurdish Matras deals with, the direct/oblique distinction is no longer observed in a systematic manner on 3s pronouns. Thus there is no systematic case difference between S and A in past tenses, and no case conflict when clauses of differing transitivity are combined. The preference for deletion of 3s pronouns can therefore be considered another manifestation of what I termed the same-case preference. What is interesting from a typological viewpoint, but is not discussed by Matras, is the fact that the canonical ergative construction - where S and 0 are aligned in both nominal morphology and verb agreement - appears to have survived only in the first person, but not in the third person. Yet in most other cases of splits across the person category (cf. Dixon, 1994: 83-88), ergativity is associated with constituents lowest in animacy, while those higher up show accusative alignment. Here, however, the inverse pattern occurs (all versions of the animacy hierarchy locate third person pronouns lower than first person pronouns). Again, this supports my claims that ergativity in Kurdish is a relatively superficial phenomenon. The data do not allow a simple statement of rules, and Matras repeatedly stresses that he is dealing with preferences rather than choices. It is also clear that verbal agreement patterns are in a state of flux, something I have already mentioned in connection with number agreement (cf. (11) and (12) above), and which is amply illus-


G. Haig I Lingua 105 (1998) 149-173

trated by the data in Dorleijn (1996) - cf. section 7. Given the difficulties with identifying agreement patterns, it is unlikely that a simple statement on the pivot for coreferential deletion can be formulated at present, although the S/A pivot dominant elsewhere is still operative to a large extent. Matras does conclude that the ergative morphology imposes some restrictions on the S/A pivot (1997: 641), although its significance seems on the whole peripheral. Generally then it is safe to conclude that, bearing in mind the difficulties with identifying the relevant features, Kurdish has a dominant S/A pivot for coreferential deletion across coordinate clauses with li. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that the S/A pivot is sensitive to nominal case and agreement patterns, which may result in a preference for pronoun retention under certain conditions. But there is certainly no systematic syntactic linking of S and 0, and it would therefore not be justified to talk of syntactic ergativity. 5.3. The non-inflecting pronoun xwe Kurdish has a non-inflecting reflexive and possessive pronoun xwe. It is used (a) as the reflexive pronoun in sentences corresponding to English himself in he saw himself in the mirror; and (b) as a possessive pronoun under certain conditions. It is the latter usage of xwe that will concern us here.j Let us first consider an English example: (28) The farmer is sending the boy to his house On my intuition at least, it is not completely clear whose house is being referred to, the boys or the farmers. Other languages are more explicit in this respect (e.g. Danish: cf. Anderson, 1976: 9-10). In the Kurdish translation of (28), the intended reference of the possessive is quite clear: (29) cotkar farmer:DIR kur-i di-@r-e boy-OBL DUR-send-3s mal-a house-LK:F xwe REFL

In (29), xwe can only refer to the A, cotkur farmer. If coreference with the 0, kur1^ is intended, a different type of possessive is required: m&-a wi his house. There is thus absolutely no question as to the identity of the possessor in (29). Putting (29) in the past tense, therebye reversing the respective case marking of A and 0, does not have any effect on the interpretation of xwe: mal-a xwe (30) cotkar-i kur Sand farmer-OBL boy : DIR send: PAST(3s) house-LK : F REFL the farmer sent the boy to his (=the farmers /*the boys) house

6 Dixon (1994: 138) has pointed out that control in reflexive structures corresponding to the (a)-usage is not a reliable diagnostic for establishing syntactic pivots.

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Thus xwe is sensitive to the syntactic relations A, 0 and S, not to surface case. It could be argued that xwe is actually sensitive to some notion of topic rather than to sentence-internal syntactic relations. But this is not the case. Consider the following example, the opening passage of a short oral narrative:7 (31) zilam-ek hebti, gavan bO. man-one exist:PST(3s) herdsman be:PST(3s) Mal-a A d&i gund bQ r-1 house-LK:F E:OBL distant village be:PST(3s) There was (once) a man, he was a herdsman. His (the herdsmans) house was some distance from the village [...I Note that the possessive used with ma1 house is not xwe but the oblique form of the 3s pronoun wi. If xwe were used for topics, then we would expect it here, for there is only one topical entity in this passage, the man who has just been introduced. But it is excluded on syntactic grounds, i.e. because it is not coreferent with the S of the main verb of the clause it occurs in. Finally, consider an example of xwe occurring in an embedded nominalized clause (from Bedir Khan and Lescot, 1986: 294): (32) Tirk [hebun-a di welat-e Kurd-an xwe de] inkar Turk be:INF-LK:F Kurd-0BL:PL ADP land-LK:M REFL ADP denial di-k-in DUR-do:PRES-PL the Turks deny [that there are Kurds in their (=the Turks) country] (lit: deny the being-of-Kurds in their country) Notice that it is the A of the main clause verb, Tirk, which controls xwe, not the embedded subject Kurdan, here coded as an attribute to the infinitive h&fin. Clearly, control of xwe is determined by core constituents, not NP-subconstituents. These examples should suffice to demonstrate that the reference of xwe is bound to strict syntactic conditions: it may only refer to a main clause (i.e. finite) S or A (I will have cause to modify this statement slightly in section 6 below). Thus the S/A pivot controlling me-reference in Kurdish is considerably stronger than the comparable process in English, and is the clearest evidence in favour of syntactic accusativity in Kurdish. 5.4. Ergative and passive Modem Kurdish has developed a regular passive construction, formed with the verb hatin come and the infinitive of the main verb. The Kurdish passive conforms with all the criteria for a prototypical passive construction put forward by Dixon and
Taken from the story Ciroka Qundirg in: Lescot, R., 1940. Textes Kurdes. Premiere partie: Contes, prove&s et Cnigmes. Paris: Libraire Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.


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Aikhenvald (1997): it applies to transitive clauses and renders them intransitive; it results in the deletion of the A from the core of the clause; the 0 of the active clause becomes the derived S of the intransitive clause; it is a marked verbal voice (in that it requires at least one additional morpheme). Consider the following examples: (33) Active (accusative alignment) em her sal newrozd piroz-di-k-in 1PL:DIR every year New Year-OBL celebrate-DUR-do:PRES-1PL we celebrate Newroz every year (34) Passive piroz-kir-in newroz her sal t-e New-Year every year DUR-come:PRES(3s) celebrate-do-INF Newroz is celebrated every year Example (33) is an accusative construction, i.e. the A is in direct case and the 0 in oblique. Under passivization, the A is suppressed (it may, however, occur as a peripheral adpositional argument) and the 0 assumes direct case and clause-initial position. Shaumjan states quite clearly that:
[a] mixed ergative language can have the passive voice only as part of its accusative subsystem. (Shaumjan, 1985: 319)

But in Kurdish, the passive derivation applies in an identical fashion to the ergative construction: (35) Active (ergative alignment) me newroz piroz-kir her sal 1p:OBL every year New Year celebrate_do:PST(3s) we celebrated Newroz every year (36) Passive newroz hat piroz-kir-in her sal New Year every year come:PST(3s) celebrate-do-INF Newroz was celebrated every year Thus Shaumjans claim is clearly wrong: passive in Kurdish applies equally to the accusative and the ergative construction.8 In (35) and (36), the surface case of the 0 does not change under passivization, but its syntactic status does: it assumes clause initial position, and it takes on pivot properties such as control of possessive xwe, as in the following example:

8 The existence of passive constructions in ergative languages has since been noted by many other scholars - see for example Lazard (1997: 258).

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(37) Mamoste di mal-a xwe de hat Teacher ADP house-LK:F REFL ADP come:PST(3s) the teacher, was killed in hisi house

kugt-in kill-INF

The point is, the passive derivation is again impervious to the surface case of the core arguments, treating A and 0 alike in both the accusative and the ergative construction. This demonstrates that the 0 of the ergative construction shares at best a superficial similarity with S. And that is of course precisely the reason why it is necessary to have a passive voice that also applies to the ergative construction: the 0 of the ergative construction, despite the fact that it controls agreement on the verb and is in the direct case, has no pivot properties. In order to acquire them, for example to meet the requirements of clause coordination, the construction must be able to undergo passivization. 5.5. Summary of syntactic ergativity The evidence from constituent order, coreferential deletion across coordinate clauses, control of possessive xwe, and passive derivation all point in the same direction: Kurdish is decidedly accusative at the syntactic level in that A and S are consistently linked to the exclusion of 0. The S/A pivot operates on both accusative and ergative constructions, i.e. is not susceptible to the surface case of the arguments concerned. I cannot of course rule out the possibility that traces of ergativity may be evident in other domains, but a full-scale investigation of Kurdish syntax is obviously beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, my impression from texts and from other constructions, e.g. accessibility to relativization, is that such evidence, even if it is forthcoming, will be extremely scanty.

6. Possessors, pivots, and clause-initial core constituents In the previous section I have established that for several constructions, Kurdish syntax works on a consistent S/A pivot. Thus the syntax, unlike the morphology, is consistent in its alignment. There is however one slight wrinkle in the system: sentential expressions of possession. In the dialect on which this paper focuses, sentential expressions of possession are based on an existential predicate, a form of the verb heblin exist. For example: (38) nan-8 min he-ye bread-LK:M 1s:OBL exist:PRES-3s I have bread (lit. my bread exists) But in the varieties of Kurmanci described in Bedir Khan and Lescot (1986: 178), Badilh (1992: 126), and Matras (1992/1993: 145), an alternative is also noted:


G. Haig t Lingua IO5 (1998) 149-l 73

(39) min he-ye nan 1s:OBL bread-DIR exist:PRES-3s Comparing (38) with the semantically equivalent (39), it is evident that the crucial difference lies in the syntactic status of the possessor. In (38), the possessor is a subconstituent of the subject NP. In (39), the possessor is no longer a subconstituent of nun bread. Note that this is not just superficial scrambling but a genuine disruption of the original possessive construction, evident from the fact that nun has lost the linker -&. The question is: What is the syntactic status of the fronted possessor in (39)? Superficially, (39) resembles an ergative construction: there is a clause-initial NP in the oblique case, while verb-agreement is determined by the non-clause initial possessed noun. But (39) differs from the canonical Kurdish ergative construction in two crucial respects: first, it is in the present tense, and second, its predicate is intransitive. But interestingly, there is some evidence that the fronted oblique possessor also acquires some of the pivot properties associated with the A of the ergative construction, for example control of possessive xwe (cf. Matras, 1992/1993: 145). Unfortunately, the construction is not possible in the dialect of my informant, and the relevant structures could not be found in the texts available, so it is difficult to determine to what extent such fronted possessors acquire pivot properties. However, assuming Matras is right for control of xwe, then it would seem that our pivotdefinition should be extended to include not only S and A, but also fronted possessors such as min in (39). As a suggestion along these lines, I would propose that pivot in Kurdish be defined as clause-initial core constituent, whereby core constituent would be taken to mean a non-adpositional NP (excluding of course temporal adverbials and the like). What these examples demonstrate is that, with certain intransitive verbs, it is possible for an oblique constituent, assuming that it is semantically prominent and sufficiently topic-worthy, to move to clause-initial position, resulting in the typical features of an ergative construction: a clause-initial core argument in oblique clause with at least some pivot properties, and a second core constituent in direct case and controlling verbal agreement. Now the verb forms found in the modem ergative construction were originally intransitive verbal adjectives, and had to undergo reanalysis as transitive verb forms. In the light of this fact, the possessive origin of the ergative construction, suggested among others by Trask (1979), as opposed to the more widely held passive origin-opinion, appears quite plausible.

7. The decay of ergativity in Kurdish-further ogy mismatch

evidence for the

While linguists have been busy discussing the emergence of ergativity in Kurdish (e.g. Cardona, 1970; Anderson, 1977; Trask, 1979; Bynon, 1980; summary in Dorleijn, 1996: 74-77), it has largely escaped their attention that in several Kurmanci dialects ergativity is rapidly disappearing. The only serious work in this direction is

G. Haig I Lingua 105 (1998) 149-l 73


the recently published dissertation of Dorleijn (1996). In this section I will briefly discuss some of her findings. Dorleijn investigates the ergative construction in the speech of Kurds living in Turkey, particularly from the Diyarbaktr area. The data is based on recordings of spontaneous speech and data elicited in translation tasks (Turkish-Kurdish). The canonical ergative construction in Kurdish may, for the purposes of the following disussion, be displayed schematically as in (40): (40) A-OBL O-DIR V-AGR=O (i.e. verbal agreement is with 0) Dorleijn (1996: 118) found that, in her elicitation data, only 26.4% (n = 1342) of past transitive sentences conformed with the canonical ergative pattern given in (40). The remainder deviated from it in one of several ways. Consider for a moment the available possibilities for case assignment and agreement. There are four logically possible combinations for the case marking of A and 0: 1. A-OBL, 2. A-OBL, 3. A-DIR, 4. A-DIR, O-DIR 0-OBL O-DIR 0-OBL

Furthermore, there are three logically possible agreement patterns on the verb. 1. AGR=A 2. AGR=O 3. no agreement (i.e. invariant 3s) Combining these possibilities we arrive at twelve possible combinations of case and agreement, of which (40) represents but one. Remarkably, in Dorleijns data all twelve possibilities are attested, albeit with great differences in frequency. The commonest pattern (31.6%) was a double oblique construction in which the verb shows no agreement : (41) A-OBL 0-OBL V-no agreement This particular pattern appears to be the norm for some speakers, and has of course been noted as a stable alignment in other Iranian languages, e.g. Masulei (Lazard, 1997: 262). A Kurdish example is the following (Dorleijn, 1996: 117): (42) min wan 1s:OBL 2PL:OBL I saw you(PL) dit see:PST(3s)

Canonical accusative alignment, given in (43), occurred in 18.4% of the sentences:


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(43) A-DIR 0-OBL V-AGR=A Note that constructions such as (42), apparently the norm for some speakers, cannot be considered ergative, as 0 no longer shares the case and agreement properties of S (intransitive sentences appear unaffected by the changes noted by Dorleijn). But what other changes accompany the shift from ergative to double oblique or accusative? As far as I can ascertain: none. The AOV word order appears to be constant across all speakers and across all case and agreement pattems.9 I conclude that case marking of core arguments and agreement patterns are, to a quite astonishing extent, independent of the rest of the grammar: the syntax appears to be unaffected by morphological alignment, hence all possible combinations of case and agreement can be tolerated. As far as Kurdish is concerned, Andersons (1976) claims regarding the superficial nature of morphological alignment do indeed appear to be valid. It is rather unusual to find this degree of variation in such a central area of grammar as the marking of core constituents, and it is worth briefly mentioning some of the factors that may have contributed to the Kurdish situation - a more comprehensive discussion can be found in Dorleijn (1996). The main reason is surely that case marking of core constituents carries a very low functional load in Kurdish anyway. Firstly, as I noted in section 3.1, (5) and (6), case marking is neutralized whenever an NP contains any attributes. In actual speech, a considerable number of NPs are of this kind. Secondly, some nouns do not inflect for case at all, and there is a tendency for case markers to be omitted in casual speech. Thirdly, in some dialects the second person singular pronoun now has a single form, i.e. has abandoned the oblique/direct distinction. Thus most of the work in distinguishing core arguments is performed by the syntax, most notably the AOV word order, leaving the morphology extremely vulnerable. A further reason for the development of the double oblique construction is that Kurdish appears to be developing a distinction between direct and oblique OS on the basis of specificness and definiteness, a phenomenon well known in the neighbouring languages Turkish and Persian. This means definite OS will tend to take the oblique case in the ergative construction. There may well be a deeper reason for the instability of the ergative construction in Kurdish, discussed by Dorleijn (1996: 103-l 13) on the strength of, among other things, a comparison with other Iranian languages. She suggests that the past verb forms in the ergative construction are not fully transitive, at least less so than the verb forms of the accusative construction, and that the instability of case assignment and agreement results from this fact. One might add that the labile nature of the construction could therefore be a result of the fact that they are still in the process of reanalysis towards transitive verb forms. This is an intriguing possibility, which I cannot, however, pursue further here. It should be emphasised that these are highly language-specific factors, and will not necessary be of any relevance for other so-called ergative languages. This is in
9 Dorleijn notes a maximum of 4% non-SOV sentences with one of her speakers (1996: 142). In fact, the figure is lower, because she also counts oblique goal arguments with intransitive verbs of motion as 0 (cf. example (43) of Dorleijn, 19%: 142). This is clearly not compatible with my use of the category 0.

G. Haig I Lingua 105 (1998) 149-173


line with the general argumentation of this paper which is that ergativity cannot be treated as a unified phenomenon.

7. Conclusion We began with a discussion of Andersons suggestion that morphological ergativity is a superficial phenomenon, not necessarily linked to other levels of grammatical organization. The syntactic architecture of the vast majority of languages remains, according to Anderson, very similar, regardless of morphological alignment. His views were attacked by a number of scholars who stressed fundamental differences between ergative and accusative languages, claiming the distinction to be a fundamental typological dichotomy (cf. especially Shaumjan, 1985). Typologists are familiar with the idea that typological classifications should be maximally predictive, that is, be based on features which are maximally revealing about the entirety of the grammar. But this clearly does not apply to the feature of alignment: from the presence of ergativity in a language, we can predict very little else about that language. I conclude therefore that ergative languages do not constitute a valid typological domain, and therefore the dichotomy between ergative and accusative languages is of very little use. Although Anderson did not actually say as much, his claims can be interpreted in a similar manner: if morphological ergativity is a superficial phenomenon, largely independent of the rest of the grammar, we should not expect to find any consistent grouping of ergativity with other linguistic features, particularly the syntax. This is the conclusion reached most recently by Dixon ( 1994). As an illustration of this claim we examined Kurdish (Kurmanci). It can be shown that ergativity in Kurdish is solely restricted to the morphology. Major syntactic processes such as basic constituent order, coreferential deletion, control of anaphoric possessors and passivization are largely impervious to the morphology of the constituents concerned. Furthermore, we have seen in section 7 that morphological alignment is highly unstable across different varieties of Kurmanci, while the syntax remains relatively consistent. Surely it makes little sense to assign two varieties of the same language to two different categories of a major typological distinction simply because they happen to differ in the case marking of some constituents. The two varieties of Kurmanci concerned have far more in common with each other than either has with, say, Inuit or Dyirbal. In closing I would like to stress that I have only suggested that Andersons claims are justified for one particular so-called ergative language, Kurdish. Note, however, that the Kurdish data alone are sufficient to disprove several claims of the type all ergative languages are .... particularly those of Shaumjan (1985). I personally make no claims regarding ergative languages in general, because I consider the class of ergative languages to be a typological artefact. This is not to suggest that ergative is not a valid characterization of particular grammatical structures. Nor do I suggest that the term ergative language in the sense of language which possesses ergative characteristics is in itself of no value. But it needs to be borne in mind that it is no


G. Haig I Lingua 105 (1998) 149-173

more than a convenient label encompassing a very heterogeneous group of languages; typologists should resist the temptation to seek some kind of common denominator defining that group of languages outside the feature of ergativity itself.

Appendix A: Abbreviations


subject of basic transitive verb adposition copula demonstrative direct durative feminine infinitive linker masculine


modal object of basic transitive verb oblique perfect plural present past reflexive singular subject of basic transitive clause

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