Jessica Coon presents on case discrimination in caseless languages

Date: Tuesday, April 26, 11am
Title: Case discrimination in caseless languages

Abstract: This talk focuses on case discrimination––the observation that in some languages, certain case-marked DPs are inaccessible for agreement. Case discrimination has been used in explanations of two phenomena in the study of ergativity:
  1. Case/agreement interactions (Bobaljik 2008): While some languages have an ergative-absolutive case system and a nominative-accusative agreement system, the reverse is unattested (Anderson 1977; Dixon 1979).
  2. A’-extraction restrictions (Deal 2016): In some morphologically ergative languages, ergative DPs are restricted from undergoing A’-extraction (see Polinsky to appear).
Recent work ties these patterns to the parameterization of whether overtly-marked ergative subjects are accessible for agreement operations from T and C (Bobajlik 2008, Deal 2016). Though this line of account successfully explains variation in languages with overt case marking, it faces challenges in head-marking ergative languages which lack case marking altogether, such as those in the Mayan and Tsimshianic language families. To address this puzzle, some have argued that these languages do not truly have ergative agreement (Woolford 2000), or that the phenomenon in question in only illusory (Deal 2016 on extraction restrictions).
I argue that case assignment is at the root of the generalizations above, even in ergative languages which lack overt morphological case. I propose that ergative agreement in Mayan and Tsimshianic languages is the result of inherent agreement, and that this operation is parasitic on inherent ergative case assignment. I show how abstract ergative case is tied to both generalizations above, and can capture the patterns in languages with and without morphological case.

Jessica & Robert’s paper up on Lingbuzz

The latest version of the paper we read last week is now up at Lingbuzz at Henderson & Coon (in prep).

Let’s talk about Case, baby

Let’s talk about case, baby.
Let’s talk about S, A, P.
Let’s talk about all the ERG things,
And the ABS things, that may be.
Let’s talk about case, let’s talk about case.

~Omer Preminger

Error fixed on Google Calendar

Apologies; I failed to skip spring break, so the next few meetings were scheduled a week earlier than they actually were. It’s fixed now.

March 8: Colin Brown

Please join us this coming Tuesday at 11am to hear Colin Brown tell us all about syntactic ergativity in Gitksan!


Feb 23: Reading Amy Rose Deal

For February 23, we’re reading Deal (2016) Syntactic ergativity: analysis and identification. Jessica Coon will lead the discussion. Members, please come with 2-3 questions or comments on the paper.

You may also like to read Polinsky (in press): Syntactic Ergativity for some additional background.

Split Ergativity in Nepali: some notes

This week we heard from Martha Schwartz on split ergativity in Nepali.


DPs that are always ergative-marked: subject of a perfective transitive clause

DPs that are never ergative-marked: objects, subject of unaccusatives

DPs that are optionally marked and/or subject to speaker variation:  subject of an imperfective transitive clause, unergative subject


  • This is the same distribution as in Tibetan
  • Some possible things that might affect whether ERG is marked in the optional/variable situations (mostly lifted from Jessica’s research on Tibetan):
    • evidentiality
    • degree of surprise: surprising = erg-marked
    • focus: focused = erg-marked
    • degree of certainty (= evidentiality?)
    • animacy: lower animacy could be more likely to have erg marker
    • theticity
  • 2 forms for 4 cases:
    • -le = ERG and INSTR
    • -laai = DOM and DAT


Thanks, Martha!

Feb 16: Martha Schwartz

Our next speaker is Martha Schwartz, who will discuss her research on split ergativity in Nepali.

Tuesday, February 16, 11-12

Linguistics 002

Schedule for Winter 2016 posted

The schedule for Winter 2016 has been posted; you can find it on the homepage and also in the newly-created Google Calendar, also on the homepage.

This semester we’ll meet every week, and approximately alternate between reading and discussing a paper and presenting our own research. Normally the paper we read will be related to the research presented the following week.

In reading weeks, attendees are encouraged to read the paper and come with a couple of questions or comments. But all are welcome regardless of preparation!

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