Linguistik online 13, 1/03

Ergative diagnostics: temptatio redux

Werner Abraham (Wien)



In the past 20 years, a new class of verbs has seen the light of existence: 'unaccusative' or 'ergative' verbs. These verbs are intransitive, but different from the traditional notion of intransitive to the extent that their subject valency behaves like a direct object distributionally. Ever since the introduction of this new grammatical notion in (typologically non-ergative, i.e., accusative) languages like English a vast bulk of literature on this topic has come forth. The present article takes issue with this mainly Anglophil notion of unaccusativity/ergativity. The claim is that this notion does not make sense in languages which provide aspectual or aktionsart distinctions of perfectivity. 'Unaccusatives' are intransitive perfectives. This argument is carried through primarily on the empirical basis of German.


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