Parameterising ergativity: an inherent case approach
Michelle Sheehan
February 2015

This chapter posits a parameter hierarchy to capture micro-parametric variation in ergative (or rather non-accusative) alignment, building on the proposal that ergative is an inherent case, assigned by (a subset of) little vs (Levin 1983; Woolford 1997, 2006, amongst others). Initial parameters determine the distribution of this inherent case across instances of little v in a given language, sensitive to various thematic features, and subsequent dependent parameters determine further properties of ergative-assigning vs such as the presence of a movement trigger and the suppression of structural Case features. This gives rise to a number of distinct ergative types depending on (i) the distribution of ergative case, (ii) the presence/absence of syntactic ergativity and (iii) the source of absolutive case in transitive contexts. The resultant parameter hierarchy serves to restrict the space of variation, modelling a number of proposed implicational universals in this domain, and provides a potential solution to the subset problem in acquisition by encoding a notion of relative markedness. The dependencies (rankings) between the parameters in question, it is argued, stem from a version of the Case Filter, and the need to create convergent derivations. (Descriptively) all transitive thematic heads have the ability to assign a structural Case as a default (generalised Burzio’s generalisation) but this possibility can be switched off, for principled reasons, where the head in question both (a) assigns a thematic (inherent) case and (b) bears an EPP movement trigger.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/002464
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in J. Coon, D. Massam, and L. Travis (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ergativity, OUP.
keywords: ergative, inherent case, parameter hierarchy, parametric theory, syntactic ergativity, morphology, syntax
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