The origin of non-canonical case marking of subjects in Proto-Indo-European

Accusative, ergative, or semantic alignment

Roland Pooth 1 , Peter Alexander Kerkhof 2 , Leonid Kulikov 1  and Jóhanna Barđdal 1
  • 1 Ghent University, St. Pietersnieuwstraat 33,, Gent, Belgium
  • 2 Leiden University, Rapenburg 70, EZ, Leiden, Netherlands


For a long time one of the most bewildering conundrums of Indo- European linguistics has been the issue of how to reconstruct the alignment system of this ancient language state, given the lack of distinction between s and o marking in the Proto-Indo-European neuter nouns and the problem of the Hittite ergative. An additional complication stems from the existence of argument structure constructions where the subject(-like) argument is marked in a different case than the nominative, like the accusative or the dative. Our aim with the present article is to fill two needs with one deed and offer a unified account of this century-long bone of contention. In contribution to the ongoing discussion in the field, we claim that a semantic alignment system, in the terms of Donohue & Wichmann (2008), might not only fit better with the morphological data that are currently reconstructed for the ancestral language, but also with the existence of non-canonically case-marked subjects in general (Barðdal, Bjarnadóttir, et al. 2013; Danesi, Johnson & Barðdal 2017).

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

Indogermanische Forschungen publishes contributions mainly in the areas of historical-comparative linguistics, historical linguistics, typology and characteristics of the languages of the Indogermanic language family. Essays on non-Indogermanic languages are also featured, provided that they coincide with the main focus of the journal with respect to methods and language history.