Ergativity and the complexity of extraction: A view from Mayan
Lauren Clemens, Jessica Coon, Pedro Mateo Pedro, Adam Morgan, Maria Polinsky, Gabrielle Tandet, Matt Wagers
August 2013

Researchers using different methods have converged on the result that subject relative clauses (RCs) are easier to process than object RCs. Cross-linguistic evidence for the subject processing advantage (SPA) has come mostly from accusative languages where grammatical function and case correspond, preventing researchers from investigating whether case or grammatical function underlies the SPA. Ergative languages allow for the separation of case and function, since more than one case is associated with the subject position. Prior results on the processing of ergative languages suggest that function and case are equally important in RC processing and differential effects are also visible. The ergative cues the projection the absolutive object, which gives preference to the absolutive, but the ergative is also preferred as subject. This paper tests these findings by examining the processing of RCs in Ch’ol and Q’anjob’al, two head- initial ergative languages that mark ergativity via agreement. The results again support the SPA but do not show any cueing by the ergative agreement marker. We conclude that case is superior to agreement in tracking grammatical function, and in the absence of case cues, structural preferences become more pronounced. Therefore the SPA is evident in both ergative and accusative languages.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/001630
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: to appear in NLLT
keywords: ergativity, mayan, processing, relative clauses, subjects, subject preference, morphology, syntax
previous versions: v3 [October 2012]
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