Ergativity and object shift across Inuit
Michelle Yuan
January 2020

Although the Inuit languages are generally described as ergative, it has also been observed that this case patterning is more robust in certain varieties than in others (e.g. Johns 2006, 2017; Carrier 2017; Murasugi 2017). This paper argues that variation in ergativity across Inuit results from variation in movement of the transitive object to a structurally high position—as evidenced by parallel points of variation seen in Scandinavian object shift (Woolford 2017). An object shift approach moreover offers new insights into the nature of the reduced ergative patterning found in certain Inuit varieties. To account for the ergativity–object shift connection in Inuit, I propose that movement of the object triggers dependent ERG case assignment to the subject (Marantz 1991, Baker 2015); independent restrictions imposed on object movement therefore constrain the appearance of ergativity. This, in turn, reveals that the notion of "ergativity" in the Inuit languages is fundamentally divorced from the morphosyntactic properties of transitive subjects, contrary to much theoretical literature on the phenomena. Beyond Inuit, these findings also make broader predictions for the cross-linguistic landscape of morphological and syntactic case alignment.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004942
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: submitted
keywords: inuit, ergativity, case, agreement, object shift, clitic-doubling, variation, syntax
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