Lab Meeting: Bronwyn Bjorkman: Ergative as Perfective Oblique

The lab meeting next Wednesday (4/16/14, 5:15 pm) will be a joint meeting of the Language Universals Reading Group and the Polinsky Lab:
Ergative as Perfective Oblique
Presented by: Bronwyn Bjorkman
Location: 2 Arrow Street, 4th floor conference room
The (optional) background readings are:
Coon (2013) TAM Split Ergativity — Parts I and II
Bronwyn recommends Part II particularly as an overview of Jessica Coon’s analysis of split ergativity, since she’ll be responding to that in part. 
For an overview of the core Hindi-Urdu facts that Bronwyn is going to be talking about, and an introduction to the link between ergativity and auxiliary selection, see:
Mahajan (1997) Universal Grammar and the Typology of Ergative Languages. 
For PDFs of the readings you can email "acorver [at]".
As is well-known, many languages with ergative systems of case or agreement nonetheless

exhibit splits in their alignment, with ergativity failing to occur in some contexts.

Viewpoint aspect is a common determinant of such splits, with perfective aspect being

associated with ergative alignment, and imperfective (or specifically progressive) aspect

being associated with its absence (Moravcsik, 1978; Silverstein, 1976).


Recent work on aspect-driven splits has focused on properties of the imperfective, arguing

that it is associated with structures that disrupt otherwise-available mechanisms of ergative

alignment (Laka, 2006; Coon, 2010, 2013).


This talk focuses instead on the syntax of the perfective, arguing that in some languages

it is the perfective aspectual head itself that licenses ergative case. I argue specifically

that ergative alignment in Hindi-Urdu arises from the intersection of two different ways of

expressing perfective aspect, each attested independently in other languages. The first is

the use of oblique case to mark perfect or perfective subjects, found in languages such as

North Russian (Jung, 2011; Serˇzant, 2012), Estonian (Lindstr¨om and Tragel, 2010), and the

Kartvelian dialect Mingrelian (Tuite, 1998). The second is a morphosyntactic sensitivity to

transitivity, a hallmark of auxiliary selection in Germanic and Romance languages, whose

parallels to ergativity in Hindi-Urdu were first noted by Mahajan (1997). Ergativity of

the type found in Hindi-Urdu fits naturally into this typological picture – but only if the

licensing of ergative case is tied directly to perfective aspect, rather than disrupted by a

structurally complex imperfective.


The result is a more unified view of the morphosyntax of perfective aspect, at the cost

of a unified account of aspectually split ergativity. In particular, the proposal cannot

be extended to languages such as Basque, where both imperfective and perfective aspect

show ergative alignment, with only progressive contexts being non-ergative (Laka, 2006).

This result is consistent with work suggesting that languages can vary in how they encode

aspectual contrasts: in particular, languages may vary in whether perfective or imperfective

aspect is the more featurally or structurally complex (Dahl, 1985; Comrie, 1976; Bjorkman,

2011; Cowper, 2005, a.o). For work on aspectual splits, however, this leaves open the

question of how to account for their uniform directionality: if imperfective and perfective

aspects can be represented in different ways, it is a challenge to explain why they pattern

consistently in ergative splits.
2 Arrow Street, 4th floor conference room
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm
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