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Linguistic Typology

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Volume 22, Issue 1


Optional ergative, agentivity and discourse prominence – Evidence from Yali (Trans-New Guinea)

Sonja Riesberg
  • 'zɔn.ja 'ʁi:s.b̥ɛɐ̯kʰ, Abteilung für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Institut für Linguistik, Universität zu Köln, 50923 Köln, Germany
  • ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia
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Published Online: 2018-04-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingty-2018-0002


A phenomenon often termed “optional ergative marking” is found in a number of genetically unrelated languages. Yali, a Trans-New Guinea language spoken in West Papua, shows striking similarities to optional ergative systems as described in the literature. This paper focuses on the relation between agentivity and discourse prominence, and argues in favour of a systematic distinction between semantic and syntactic contexts as conditioning factors for optional ergative marking. It further provides new evidence for the close interplay of ergative marking and what has been termed “discourse prominence” in descriptions of some other languages and shows that in Yali, optional ergative marking operates on both the global and the local level of discourse.

Keywords: optional ergative marking; agentivity; prominence; Trans-New Guinea; Yali


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About the article

Received: 2017-04-30

Revised: 2017-11-20

Published Online: 2018-04-27

Published in Print: 2018-04-25

Citation Information: Linguistic Typology, Volume 22, Issue 1, Pages 17–50, ISSN (Online) 1613-415X, ISSN (Print) 1430-0532, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingty-2018-0002.

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