Chapter 58: Alignment of case marking of full noun phrases

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 58.

1. Alignment in monotransitive constructions

Like the preceding chapter, this chapter considers role-marking patterns (case-marking and adpositional marking) in monotransitive clauses, i.e. clauses with a typical physical-effect verb such as ‘break’ or ‘kill’. In accordance with widespread typological practice (cf. Comrie 2005, Haspelmath 2011a), we compare the coding of the monotransitive agent (A) and patient (P) with the coding of the sole argument of a single-argument intransitive clause (S). This kind of comparison is usually called alignment (it can be carried out in a similar way with ditransitive clauses, see Chapter 60). In APiCS we limit ourselves to alignment of cases and adpositions, and in this chapter we only consider full noun phrase arguments (for personal pronouns, which often behave differently, see Chapter 59).

When comparing the coding of the agent and patient with the intransitive sole argument, there are five logical alignment possibilities, of which only three are relevant in practice: the pattern with identical coding of sole argument and agent, and special coding of the patient (called accusative alignment), the pattern with identical coding of sole argument and patient, and special coding of the agent (called ergative alignment), and the pattern in which the agent and the patient are coded identically and in the same way as the sole argument (called neutral alignment, always with zero coding).

Figure 1. The three main monotransitive alignment patterns

The three patterns are illustrated in (1-3), from English, Quechua (a South American language) and Garrwa (an Australian language). The corresponding intransitive clause, not given here for lack of space, has an S argument with zero coding.

English: neutral alignment (no case-marking)
The farmer-Ø killed the duckling-Ø.
Quechua: accusative alignment (only P-marking)
Juan hits Tomás. (Huallaga Quechua, Weber 1989: 15)
Garrwa: ergative alignment (only A-marking)
That boy hit the snake. (Leeding 1976: 385)

2. The feature values

The three main alignment types are the three feature values shown on the map. Only the first two are at all common in our languages. (The other two logical patterns, with different coding of A, S and P (tripartite pattern), or with identical coding of A and P contrasting with the coding of S (horizontal pattern), are not attested at all in APiCS.)

Neutral alignment61
Accusative alignment14
Ergative alignment1

The map is quite similar to the map for patient marking (Chapter 57), as neutral alignment is identical to absence of patient marking in practice, while accusative alignment is identical to the possibility of patient marking (whether patient marking is variable and optional, as it is in most cases, or obligatory).

The only difference between Chapter 57 and this chapter is the presence of an ergative pattern in the mixed language Gurindji Kriol, which has inherited its ergative case from the Australian Aboriginal language Gurindji, e.g.

The kid hit the old man on the head.

Like accusative marking in most APiCS languages with an accusative pattern, ergative marking is variable in Gurindji Kriol (Meakins 2011: 209-239).

The small map, adapted from WALS (Comrie 2005), shows the distribution of the three types in the world’s languages. Tripartite and active-stative alignments, which do not occur in APiCS, have been omitted from this map. We see that ergative alignment is found widely in Australia, and accusative alignment is found in South Asia, which explains some of the patterns in APiCS.

Map 58A.