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Lit of contributors vi

Introduction 1
A.A.Xolodovič on Japanese passives 7
Masayoshi Shibatani
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese (translated by Judith M.Knott) 19
The causative-passive correlation 53
Judith M.Knott
Morphological and lexical causatives in Nivkh (translated by Judith M.Knott) 60
V.P.Nedjalkov, G.A.Otaina, and A.A.Xolodovič
Voice in Turkish 82
Asli Göksel
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 103
G.D.Wijayawardhana, Daya Wickramasinghe and Theodora Bynon
Aspect, directionality and control in Japanese 139
Lone Takeuchi
Subject, topic and Tagalog syntax 158
Paz Buenaventura Naylor
Georgian—ergative, active, or what? 197
B.George Hewitt
Fading ergativity? A study of ergativity in Balochi 212
Tim Farrell
The ergative parameter 236
Andrew Spencer

David C.Bennett, Department of Linguistics, SOAS

Theodora Bynon, Department of Linguistics, SOAS
Tim Farrell, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Karachi, Pakistan
Asli Göksel, Department of Linguistics, SOAS
B.George Hewitt, Department of the Near and Middle East, SOAS
Judith M.Knott, formerly Department of Linguistics, SOAS
Vladimir P.Nedjalkov, Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, St.
Petersburg, Russia
Paz Buenaventura Naylor, Department of Asian Languages, University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, USA
G.A.Otaina, Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg,
Masayoshi Shibatani, Faculty of Letters, University of Kobe, Kobe, Japan
Andrew Spencer, Department of Language and Linguistics, University of Essex,
Lone Takeuchi, Department of East Asia and Department of Linguistics, SOAS
G.D.Wijewardhana, Department of Sinhala, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
Daya Wickramasinghe, Department of Sinhala, Sri Jayawardhanapura University,
Nugegoda, Sri Lanka
A.A.Xolodovič (died 1977), formerly Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of
Sciences, St. Petersburg
Note: the title of the Leningrad Institute is updated from Academy of Sciences of the
USSR, Leningrad

This volume brings together eleven papers which relate to a seminar on language
typology held at SOAS in 1988–89. Their subject-matter reflects two main influences.
Firstly, a research grant from the Leverhulme Trust enabled us to study the work of the
Leningrad Group for the Typological Study of Languages and to make some of it
accessible in English translation.1 English versions of two key papers are included here:
A.A. Xolodovič on Japanese passives, preceded by M.Shibatani’s discussion; and the
essay by V.P.Nedjalkov, G.A.Otaina and A.A.Xolodovič on causatives in Nivkh,
preceded by Judith Knott’s Leningrad-inspired analysis of the causative-passive link.
Secondly, we were fortunate in having with us during the early stages of the seminar
Professor Masayoshi Shibatani of Kobe University, Japan, who gave our discussions
guidance and direction. Both Shibatani and the Leningrad/St.Petersburg typologists have
worked extensively on questions relating to the valency structure of lexical predicates and
in particular on grammatical devices which affect the mapping relations between
syntactic and semantic roles, as in grammatical voice.
The highly effective cross-linguistic comparison practised at Leningrad/ St. Petersburg
has been a major factor in bringing language typology within the scope of modern
theoretical linguistics. Beginning in the mid-sixties the Leningrad Typology Group have
produced several collective volumes, each devoted to a particular grammatical domain
defined by closely integrated formal and semantic-pragmatic variation (causative
constructions: Xolodovič 1969; passive constructions: Xolodovič 1974; and resultative
constructions: Nedjalkov 1983/88)—see Comrie 1989; Knott 1988; Nedjalkov and
Litvinov in press. Leningrad typologists have taken as their point of departure the
analysis of lexical predicates pioneered by Tesnière (1954): the verb (or, more rarely,
adjective) is the head of the clause and each lexical verb has a specified number of
syntactic ‘actants’ (subject, object, etc.) which represent the ‘participants’ (agent, patient,
etc.) of the corresponding pragmatic setting (‘the situation’). With a two-place verb such
as beat the active voice sentence

The man beat the donkey

is characterised by equating subject and agent. On the other hand, in the passive sentence

The donkey was beaten

the subject-role is dissociated from the agent and linked with patient role.

1 ‘Structural comparison of languages: typology and universals’. We gratefully acknowledge the

Trust’s support of this project.
Subject, voice and ergativity 2

The mapping-relations between the hierarchies of syntactic and semantic-pragmatic

roles, within a single language and across languages, make explicit a series of syntactic
and semantic parameters delimiting areas of cross-linguistic variation.
The highest position on the syntactic hierarchy is that of subject, on the semantic
hierarchy that of agent. Active voice (in a nominative-accusative language) reflects the
direct mapping between the top members of these two hierarchies, while passive voice
represents marked subject choice. Cross-linguistically there is considerable variation in
the choice of the noun phrase which is promoted to subject. In the prototypical passive
this will be the patient, but there are so-called impersonal passives (which lack a lexical
subject), and some languages will permit indirect objects and even locatives to become
subjects, while in Japanese a noun phrase which is not even an actant of the verb may
become the subject of a passive-voice sentence, as in

Watashi wa hitobanjuu akanboo ni nakareta

I TOPIC all night baby DAT cry-PASS-PAST
‘I was adversely affected by the/my baby crying all night’
(literally: ‘I was cried by the baby all night’)

A.A.Xolodovič’s analysis of passive sentences in Japanese is an early and excellent

example of the Leningrad approach, although he does not offer a solution of the instances
where the subject is not an argument of the verb. Shibatani, in his comment on
Xolodovič, compares the ‘extra’ NP to the ‘dativus (in)commodi’ of European languages,
which introduces an affected party into an otherwise complete utterance. Compare the
German intransitive verb ausgehen ‘to run out’ in

Mir ist der Kaffee ausgegangen

I-DAT is the coffee run-out-PAST-PART
‘I have run out of coffee’

There is also considerable variation in the way the agent of the passive is encoded; while
the prototypical passive may be said to be agentless—the action being perceived from the
perspective of the actant on which it impinges—many languages permit, as a variant,
overt encoding of the agent. Depending on the language, this will be in an oblique case or
in the form of an adpositional phrase, which are typically deletable. Asli Göksel analyses
passive-middle and reflexive constructions in Turkish as cases of verb intransitivisation
achieved by suppression of the agent and then deals in some detail with the syntactic
status of the ‘reintroduced’ agent (invariably animate in Turkish), which takes the form of
an adjunct. ‘Middle voice’ (of the type The door opens) is seen as not formally
distinguished from the passive voice, the difference to be captured by the pragmatic
From the perspective of semantics, in a prototypical active sentence the syntactic
subject is perceived as acting upon someone/something else and the syntactic object
represents the affected party. Affectedness is not, however, restricted to the patient role.
In the so-called middle voice, subject status may fall on a greater or lesser section of the
spectrum of semantic roles, including the agent, if the noun phrase in question is
perceived as being affected by the verbal action or event. That is to say, the referent of a
Introduction 3

noun phrase may be perceived as simultaneously acting and being acted upon (hence the
similarities between middle and reflexive). G.D. Wijayawardhana et al. argue that in
Sinhala the semantic roles assigned to arguments form a hierarchy governed by two
complementary properties, control and affectedness. The top of the hierarchy is occupied
by a prototypical agent in full control of, and unaffected by, the verbal action. This is the
domain of the active voice, all other constellations being marked-voice constructions
characterised by passive morphology. The bottom of the hierarchy is occupied by the
(animate) patient characterised by total affectedness and absence of control, while the
necessarily animate experiencer role, characterised by limited control and some
affectedness, figures in between.
The notion of control is again important for the Classical Japanese aspect markers
discussed by Lone Takeuchi. Deriving from morphemes meaning ‘come’ and ‘go’ they
retain their directional meaning in some contexts but in other contexts where the direction
of movement would predict a ‘come’ morpheme, a ‘go’ morpheme occurs instead, its
function being to indicate that the referent of the subject has no control over the action.
At first glance, the basic sentential structure in ergative languages resembles the
passive configuration of nominative-accusative languages both in terms of case-marking
and verb-agreement; indeed, the suggestion was actually made as long ago as 1895 by
Hugo Schuchardt that ergative languages were in essence passive languages. This view is
no longer accepted, though ergativity in some languages has been convincingly shown to
have developed from an earlier passive. The term ‘ergative language’ is used, of course,
in at least two senses: (1) most commonly reference is to languages where the ergativity
holds only at the morphological level, and we find the direct object (O/P) nominal treated
exactly like the intransitive subject (S) nominal in terms of case-marking, verb-
agreement, word-order or particle-marking (according to the norms of the language
concerned), leaving the transitive agent (A) nominal to be treated differently—this type
of ergativity might apply only to certain tense/mood/aspect forms or to different parts of
the nominal/pronominal or verb-agreement systems, in which case we speak of ‘split
ergativity’; (2) a few languages, in addition to being morphologically ergative in the way
just described, also manifest syntactic ergativity, such that certain syntactic rules apply
only to NPs fulfilling certain syntactic functions. An example would be a relativisation-
rule requiring two co-referential NPs to be in O/P or S function. In such a language one
could relativise the equivalents of ‘I saw the man (O/P) who (S) came yesterday’ and
‘The man (S) whom (O/P) I saw yesterday came’ but not ‘The man (S) who (A) saw me
yesterday came’. Such languages invariably possess a transformation known as Anti-
passive, which places the underlying A-nominal in surface S-function (demoting the
underlying O/P-nominal to some oblique function), thereby permitting relativisation of
this third example to proceed after Anti-passive has applied (‘The man (S) who (S) saw-
ANTI-PASS me-OBLIQUE yesterday came’). Anti-passive is so named because it seems
to do to passive-like ergative structures what the passive transformation does to active
sentences in nominative-accusative languages.
Andrew Spencer addresses problems of case-marking and verb-agreement within the
framework of Government and Binding theory, specifically the mirror-image properties
existing between the passive transformation in nominative-accusative languages and the
anti-passive transformation in ergative languages. With examples drawn from Paleo-
Siberian Chukchee and from Slavonic, he argues in favour of an as yet unrecognised
Subject, voice and ergativity 4

asymmetry between these two transformations, which he seeks to capture in terms of the
formalisms of Structural Case assignment.
Tim Farrell presents a case-study of various ‘splits’ in the ergativity of Southern and
Western Balochi, a North West Iranian language of Pakistan. He investigates the
historical origins of ergativity in Balochi (and in this respect the article nicely
complements papers already published by John Payne), charts the apparent diachronic
loss of the phenomenon, and offers explanations for the splits manifested in the
investigation. A counter-example is proposed to the suggestion that tense/ aspect and
Silverstein NP-splits cannot co-exist.
The first paper in the section devoted to ergativity is by George Hewitt and restates the
case for the relevance of ergativity for the South Caucasian language Georgian, one of
the languages in which the phenomenon was first noticed, in the light of a recently
expressed view that the relevant problem is better explained in terms of ‘activity’. The
difference between ergative and active configurations is as follows: ergativity is
concerned with morphosyntactic differences manifested between transitive and
intransitive verbs/ clauses, whereas the active configuration involves an additional
distinction between different sub-types of intransitive verb. The distinction is basically
semantic, distinguishing between intransitive verbs whose S-nominal is acting
volitionally or is in control of the verbal activity and those whose S-nominal is acting
non-volitionally or is not in control of the verbal activity, active S-nominals being treated
like A-nominals, inactive S-nominals being treated like O/P-nominals. It is claimed that
active languages draw the dividing line at different places and that while some active
languages may permit fluid marking of their S-nominals to take account of the semantic
parameter, others do not. By this is meant that, if we accept that logically some people
may grow fat as the result of a conscious decision to overindulge, then the fluid-type
active marking would differentiate by marking the accidental fat-grower like an O/P-
nominal and the deliberate fat-grower like an A-nominal. The non-fluid active language
would make both fat-growers like an O/P-nominal regardless. The argument discussed in
Hewitt’s paper is to an important degree concerned with whether intransitive verbs are
straightforward to identify.
Both the nominative-accusative and the ergative types have a voice system that
opposes an unmarked voice to one or more marked voices and they differ in this respect
from Philippine-type languages such as Tagalog, which appear to give equal weight to a
number of distinct voices—if indeed their so-called focus system is to be interpreted in
terms of grammatical voice. While Shibatani (1988a) argues for such an interpretation,
Paz. B.Naylor (this volume) takes the opposite view since the notion ‘subject’ is not, in
her view, legitimately applied to the noun phrase in Tagalog which the morphology of the
verb singles out as being ‘in focus’.
Causative and passive are opposities in the sense that passivisation prototypically
suppresses one actant whereas addition of the causative marker to the base verb creates a
slot for an additional actant. This ‘new’ actant is the syntactic subject of the causative
sentence while the subject/ agent of the non-causative base-verb is downgraded, in fact
not unlike the agent of the passive. V.P.Nedjalkov, G.A.Otaina and A.A.Xolodovič deal
with semantic variation in the causative construction in terms of the relative degree of
control that is vested in the causative subject by comparison with that of the base-verb:
factitives assign it a high level of control, permissives a low level. From permissive to
Introduction 5

passive proper is but a small step when the subject of the causative is coreferential with
the patient of the base-verb and the agent of the base-verb has more control than the
subject of the causative verb. In German

Er hat sich überreden lassen

he has REFLpersuade let-PAST PART
‘He let himself be persuaded’

the subject is coreferential with the affected party and the degree of control vested in it is
low. This coreferentiality forms an important link between the above ‘reluctant permitter’
reading and a fully passive reading, which would apply when all control has been
removed from the subject. In a number of languages, extending from Mongolia to
northern China (Hashimoto 1988) the causative and passive markers are in fact
homophonous. Judith Knott follows Leningrad tradition in arguing that the passive
reading has developed from the reanalysis of a causative-reflexive with permissive
reading comparable to the German case above.
The possibility of a diachronic transition involves, however, not only (certain types of)
causative and passive. It has been argued that in South Caucasian an antipassive might be
the source of that part of their morphosyntactic patterning which is characterisable as
nominative-accusative. Also the Indo-Iranian languages are known to have developed—
and often subsequently lost—morphological ergativity through passive constructions
being reanalysed as ergative, with subsequent loss of ergative marking (see Farrell’s
paper). While the passive-to ergative reanalysis shifts subject status from the patient to
the agent noun phrase (which is invested with maximal control) the causative-to-passive
reanalysis involves loss of control on the part of the causative agent, which, nevertheless,
retains its subject status. These diachronic considerations may in fact be seen as lending
support to a broader conception of grammatical voice (as envisaged by Shibatani) which
can accommodate almost the entire spectrum of phenomena reviewed in this volume.
We are grateful to Nauka for permission to publish the English translation of the two
papers of the Leningrad Group for the Typological Study of Languages. We should also
like to thank the Publications Committee of the School of Oriental and African Studies
for its assistance in meeting the cost of publication, and Diana Matias and Martin Daly
for their editorial help.


Comrie, Bernard 1989. Language universals and linguistic typology. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell
Hashimoto, Mantaro J. 1988. ‘The structure and typology of the Chinese passive construction’. In
Shibatani (ed.) 1988, 329–54
Knott, Judith M. 1988. The Leningrad Group for the Typological Study of Languages: introduction
and translations. London: SOAS
Nedjalkov, Vladimir P. (ed). 1983 Tipologija rezul’tativnyx konstruksij. Leningrad: Nauka; English
version Typology of resultative constructions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins 1988
Nedjalkov, Vladimir P. and Litvinov, Viktor P. (forthcoming) ‘The Leningrad Group for the
Typological Study of Languages’. In Shibatani, Masayoshi and Bynon, Theodora (eds.),
Approaches to language typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Subject, voice and ergativity 6

Payne, John 1979. ‘Transitivity and intransitivity in the Iranian languages of the USSR’. In Papers
from the conference on non-Slavic languages of the USSR. Chicago Linguistic Society
Shibatani, Masayoshi 1988a. ‘Voice in Philippine languages’. In Shibatani (ed.) 1988, 85–142
Shibatani, Masayoshi (ed.) 1988b. Passive and voice. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
Schuchardt, Hugo 1896. ‘Über den passiven Charakter des Transitivs in den kaukasischen
Sprachen’. Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-historischen Klasse der Akademie der
Wissenschaften zu Wien 133, 1–191
Tesnière, Lucien 1954. Eléments de syntaxe structurale. Paris: Klincksieck.
Xolodovič, A.A. (ed). 1969. Tipologija kauzativnyx konstrukcij. Leningrad: Nauka
Xolodovič, A.A. (ed) 1974. Tipologia passivnyx konstrukcij. Leningrad: Nauka
Masayoshi Shibatani

Despite its early publication date of 1974, Xolodovič’s paper touches upon most of the
relevant issues that contemporary analysts of Japanese passives and those working on the
typology of passive constructions encounter as central problems. The problems are: 1) the
nature of valence-increasing passives, 2) the adversative reading associated with certain
passive expressions, and 3) the interpretation of the null agent.
Xolodovič follows the practice of the Leningrad school of typology, of which he was
the founding father, in his treatment of diatheses of verbs. In this tradition, diatheses are
patterns of correspondence between syntactic-level nominal expressions (actants) and
semantic-level participant roles (participants). In essence a verbal lexeme is associated
with a particular set of particular roles. These participant roles are associated with surface
noun phrases according to unique patterns with respect to specific lexical forms of the
lexeme. For example, the lexeme KILL has associated with it particular roles <agent>
and <patient>. In its active lexical form kill (or the Japanese form korus-u ‘kill-PRES’),
the <agent> role is associated with a subject noun phrase and the <patient> role with an
object noun phrase. However, in its passive form killed (or the Japanese form korosa-re-
ru ‘kill-PASS-PRES’) the <agent> role is linked with an oblique noun phrase, and the
<patient> role with a subject noun phrase.
The pattern of correspondence exhibited by the basic form of a given lexeme (e.g. kill
or korosu) is considered to be the basic diathesis and designated as D0, whereas the
patterns of correspondence displayed by other forms are derived by a derivation rule of
the form D0→D1 and designated as D1, D2, etc.
In the Leningrad practice, the term voice is used in reference to the morphological
categories reflecting diathetic patterns. Thus “active voice” refers to the category of
underived verb forms associated with the basic diathesis, while “passive voice” refers to
the category of verb forms, typically identified with a specific morphological marking,
that encode the derived diatheses in which the <agent> role is not linked with a subject
noun phrase. The relationships between verb forms, diatheses, and voices are shown
(1) Verb forms: Kill/korosu
Diathesis: D0: (X=SubABS/NOM)
Voice: Active
Verb forms: killed/korosareru
Diathesis: D1: (X=AgOb) (Y+SubABS/NOM)…
Voice: Passive
Subject, voice and ergativity 8

These verb forms and the diatheses associated with them are manifested in the following
sentences, where the sentence containing the active form of the verb and the one with the
passive form of the verb can be respectively called the “active sentence” and “passive
(2) Honda wa Taroo o korosita. (Active)
Honda TOP Taro ACC kill-PAST
‘Honda killed Taro.’
(3) Taroo wa Honda ni korosareta. (Passive)
Taro TOP Honda DAT kill-PASS-PAST
‘Taro was killed by Honda.’

In this manner, Xolodovič surveys the diathetic patterns of major verb classes of
Japanese, showing specifically how active sentences and passive sentences are related in
terms of diathetic derivations.
From the typological point of view, a particularly interesting fact about the Japanese
passive is the existence of passives that increase the number of actants, as opposed to the
prototypical passive, which has the effect of decreasing syntactic valency; cf. The enemy
destroyed a lot of buildings vs. A lot of buildings were destroyed. A satisfactory treatment
of the relevant type of passive has been a major problem for those concerned with
Japanese passives, and Xolodovič also pays special attention to this problem.
One type of valence-increasing passive involves transitive verbs such as nusumu
‘steal’ and kamu ‘bite’. For the lexeme nusumu ‘steal’, Xolodovič posits three diatheses,
one for the basic active form and the other two for the passive form, as shown below:
(4) a. D0: (X=SubABS/NOM) (Y=DirObACC)
Suri wa boku no saihu o nusunda.
pickpocket TOP I GEN purse ACC steal-
‘The pickpocket stole my purse.’
b. D1: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=DirObACC)
Boku wa suri ni saihu o nusumareta.
I TOP pickpocket DAT purse ACC steal-
‘I was deprived of (my) purse by a
pickpocket.’ or ‘I had (my) purse stolen.’
c. D2: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM)
Boku no saihu wa suri ni nusumareta.
I GEN purse TOP pickpocket DAT steal-
‘My purse was stolen by the pickpocket.’

The (c) form is a regular passive with no increase in valency, whereas the (b) form,
defined by the diathesis D1, has the effect of increasing valency, with three nominal
expressions. Xolodovič extends this analysis for expressions involving relational
concepts such that (5b) below is also derived from (5a) by the diathetic derivation
(D0→D1) posited above.
A.A.Xolodovic on Japanese passives 9

1. Xolodovič typically uses the wa-marked topic subjects in his example sentences as the
realization of the (SubABS/NOM) argument of the diathesis. We follow this practice below.
(5) a. Inu wa Taroo no asi o kanda.
dog TOP Taro GEN leg ACC bite-PAST
‘The dog bit Taro’s leg.’
b. Taroo wa inu ni asi o kamareta.
Taro TOP dog DAT leg ACC bite-PASS-
‘Taro had his leg bitten by the dog.’
c. Taroo no asi wa inu ni kamareta.
Taro GEN leg TOP dog DAT bite-PASS-
‘Taro’s leg was bitten by the dog.’

Deriving a new, additional subject actant from the genitive modifier is a standard analysis
adopted by many Japanese specialists, and it has been extended by them and Xolodovič
alike to another valence-increasing type of passive involving intransitive bases, illustrated
(6) a. Watasi no obaasan ga sinda.
I GEN grandmother NOM die-PAST
‘My grandmother died.’
b. Watasi wa obaasan ni sinareta.
I TOP grandmother DAT die-PASS-PAST
‘I suffered the death of (my) grandmother.’

Xolodovič, however, realizes that there is an additional type of intransitive-based passive

that does not involve a possessive or relational concept and that, as such, lacks a genitive
source for the passive subject; e.g.
(7) a. Kanozyo ga sinda.
she NOM die-PAST
‘She died.’
(*boku no kanozyo=*my she)2
b. Boku wa kanozyo ni sinareta.
‘I suffered her death.’ (“I” could be her
husband or lover)3

The following is a standard example given for this type of passive:

(8) a. Ame ga hutta.
rain NOM fall-PAST
‘Rain fell’, ‘It rained.’
b. Satoo san wa ame ni hurareta.
Sato Mr TOP rain DAT fall-PASS-PAST
‘Mr Sato was caught in the rain.’

For the verbs that give rise to this type of passive, which lacks the genitive source for the
passive subject, Xolodovič posits the following diatheses:
Subject, voice and ergativity 10

2. The form kanozyo can be used either as a pronoun for ‘she’ or as a common noun with the
meaning of ‘girl friend, lover’. Xolodovič here is using the form as a pronoun.
3. This commentary was provided in the original by Xolodovič. Its significance becomes clearer as
we go on.
(9) D0: (X=SubABS/NOM)
→D1 (X-AgObDAT) (Ø=SubABS/NOM)

He then asks where the new subject actants of these passive forms come from, and
answers that they “come from the context” (p. 47). Thus, in Xolodovič’s treatment, there
are two instances of valence increase; one in which the new actant derives from the
genitive modifier (see (4b), (5b), (6b)) and the other in which the new actant “comes
from the context” (see (7b), (8b)). After presenting his analyses for them, Xolodovič
initially voices some concern over his treatment, namely “This increase in valency is in
some respects [sic.] paradoxical, in view of the fact that we are dealing with voice…” (p.
37). And then in the final section of his paper (section 10) Xolodovič fully addresses this
problem by first remarking that: “According to the traditional notion of voice, however, a
verb in a derived voice form either has the same number of the actants as the basic form,
or fewer actants. The possibility of its having MORE actants is completely foreign to this
conception of voice.” (p. 50).
Xolodovič recognizes that the “passive” morpheme under consideration not only
increases the number of syntactic actants, but also the number of relevant participants.
That is, what is being described by these “passive” sentences are different situations or
scenes from those described by their non-“passive” counterparts.
This is a very important observation on the part of Xolodovič and it points to the
fundamental problem of the analysis that derives a form such as (4b) from (4a); the
former, passive form talks about three participants, the speaker, his purse, and the
pickpocket, while the latter, source form talks about two participants, the pickpocket and
the speaker’s purse. (On the other hand, what is being talked about is the same between
(4a) and the corresponding regular passive (4c).) Xolodovič reaches the following
conclusion with regard to the valence-increasing “passive” forms: “The lexical entry of
the derived form must consequently be different from that of the basic form; in other
words, the derived form may be said to constitute a separate lexeme” (p. 50). Here
Xolodovič is suggesting a type of non-uniform treatment of Japanese passives. That is,
there is a set of passives that are derivable from the corresponding active forms via
diathetic derivations, and there is another set whose members are not derived from other
sources but which constitute independent lexemes with their own inherent diatheses.4

4. In the Japanese linguistic literature, the terms ‘uniform’ and ‘non-uniform’ analyses of Japanese
passives refer specifically to the two competing analyses, one of which, the uniform analysis, treats
all passives in a uniform manner as deriving from the embedding construction in which the
morpheme rare functions as a higher predicate, whilst the other, the non-uniform analysis, treats
the valence-increasing forms one way, as deriving from the embedding construction, and the non-
valence increasing passives another way, typically as transformationally derived from the
corresponding active forms. Xolodovič’s analysis is similar to the non-uniform approach in a
number of respects, having the line of division largely coincide with the question of valence
increase, and the valence-increasing type likened to the causative, which in the generative tradition
is standardly analyzed as involving embedding.
A.A.Xolodovic on Japanese passives 11

In the final analysis Xolodovič likens the valence-increasing Japanese passives to the
causative, which standardly increases valence. However, it is not clear if Xolodovič
requires each causative form, e.g. ika-se-ru ‘go-CAUS-PRES’, to be posited as a separate
lexeme independent of the verb ik-u ‘go-PRES’. Notice that here too the number of
participants differs between the basic form and the derived causative form and further
that causativization is also a very productive process in Japanese. At any rate, it is
difficult to accept Xolodovič’s causative analysis of the valence-increasing passive 1)
because of the semantic considerations—(5b) doesn’t really mean ‘Taro let the dog bite
his leg’, which the real permissive causative form Taroo wa inu ni asi o kamaseta means
(see below on a related semantic point), and 2) because, unlike Tungusic languages, there
is no historical connection between the causative expression and the passive morpheme
rare or its historical antecedent forms raru and rayu, whose earlier meaning was likely to
have been spontaneous.5
Whether or not one accepts Xolodovič’s rather radical suggestions examined above,
the alternative account suggested by him that valence-increasing forms are constructions
in their own right rather than being derived from some underlying constructions of
different structural patterns is a correct one in that even those expressions involving
possessive or relational concepts sometimes do not yield to the standard analysis of
deriving the new passive subject from a genitive modifier; e.g.
(10) (cf. (4))
a. Suri wa kanozyo no saihu o nusunda.
pickpocket TOP she GEN purse ACC
‘The pickpocket stole her purse.’
b. Boku wa suri ni kanozyo no saihu o
I TOP pickpocket DAT she GEN purse
‘I was deprived of her purse by a
(11) (cf. (5))
a. Inu wa Hanoko no asi o kanda
dog TOP Hanako GEN leg ACC bite-
‘The dog bit Hanako’s leg.’
b. Taroo wa inu ni Hanako no asi o
Taro TOP dog DAT Hanako GEN leg
‘Taro suffered the dog’s biting Hanako’s

The possibility of adding a new subject actant in the passive, in other words, is a regular
feature of the Japanese passive morpheme, regardless of the involvement of a relational
concept or the transitivity of the verb base. If so, (4b) and (5b) need not be derived
respectively from (4a) and (5a)—from the genitive sources. But this fact also points out
that Xolodovič’s move to set up separate lexemes for these forms requires
Subject, voice and ergativity 12

5. See Malchukov 1993 on Even passives, which appear to be historically related to the causative.

positing separate lexical entries for all Japanese verbs and their passive analogues, which
certainly is problematic.
Though not discussed by Xolodovič, a similar problem is observed in the standard
analysis of certain topic constructions; e.g.
(12) a. Zoo no hana ga nagai
elephant GEN nose NOM long
‘An elephant’s nose (=trunk) is long.’
b. Zoo wa hana ga nagai
elephant TOP nose NOM long
‘As for the elephant, (its) nose (=trunk) is

Among Japanese specialists, the topic phrase in (12b) is customarily derived from the
genitive modifier in (12a). However, again these two sentences make different assertions:
(12a) makes an assertion about an elephant’s nose (trunk), whereas (12b) is an assertion
about the elephant and secondarily about its nose (trunk). Notice that topic sentence (12b)
in a sense increases valency, as it contains two noun phrases vis-à-vis the one-place
predicate nagai ‘long’.6
The motivation for the above analysis of a topic sentence again comes from the fact
that a relational concept is involved. Just as the leg referred to in (5b) is understood as
belonging to Taro, the nose (trunk) is necessarily understood as that of an elephant in
(12b). However, the naïveté of the genitive-source analysis is revealed by the fact that the
semantic relationship under consideration is far more complex than the possessive or
relational notion. The following topic sentence, for example, resists the genitive-source
(13) Sakana wa tai ga ii
fish TOP red snapper NOM good
‘As for fish, red snapper is good.’

As for the situation with passives, notice Xolodovič’s supplementary note to the gloss for
A better solution to the semantic problem here is to turn things around and to assume
that as far as the syntax is concerned, the sentence types in question (e.g. (5b) and (12b))
do not derive from genitive sources, but they require particular semantic interpretations
whereby the extra noun phrases—the subject of the valence-increasing passive and the
topic phrase—are related in some sense to certain elements in the rest of the sentence.
Once we abandon, along with Xolodovič, the genitive-source analysis for these
constructions, we are in a position of having to account for this semantic requirement
imposed on them.
We must also allow room for expressions such as (8b) and the following where there
is no semantic relationship between the passive subject and

6. The standard analysis of the SURFACE structure of a topic sentence is something like [zoo wa
[hana ga nagai]], where the topic phrase zoo wa is predicated by the following clause, and only
hana ga is predicated by the adjectival predicate nagai.
A.A.Xolodovic on Japanese passives 13

what is expressed in the dative phrase.

(14) Taroo wa siranai seerusu-man ni tugi-tugi to
Taro TOP unknown sales-man DAT one-
after-another come
‘Taro was adversely affected by unknown
salesmen’s coming one after another.’

This example brings us to the second major problem of Japanese passives, namely the
adversative reading. Xolodovič does not dwell on this issue, which involves a high
degree of semantic subtlety, except to note that intransitive verbs with inherently
unpleasant meaning, e.g. naku ‘cry’ and sinu ‘die’, as well as some neutral verbs such as
kuru ‘come’ and yuku ‘go’, which may occasion unpleasant situations, may yield the
adversative reading. While Xolodovič’s observation is largely correct, the adversative
reading can also be associated with transitive-based passives. For example, (10b) and
(11b) require adversative readings.
The account called for here is one that tells us when and why an adversative reading
obtains. Notice that even if the verb inherently has an unpleasant meaning, the
adversative reading under consideration does not necessarily obtain. For example, (3)
contains the verb korosareru ‘be killed’, which inherently expresses an unpleasant event
involving the subject referent, but the sentence does not yield the kind of adversity
reading being discussed here, which involves the sense of inconvenience or adverseness.7
While the two problems discussed here—the nature of valence-increasing passives and
the adversative reading associated with certain passive sentences—may appear to be
unrelated, I would contend that they are in fact related. Though not absolute, there is a
general correlation between valence-increasing passives and the adversative reading.
What is called for here, then is a comprehensive account of the full array of passives
including valance-increasing ones, from which the solution to the problem of the
adversity reading will follow naturally. The following is a sketch towards such an
The crux of the problem lies in the matter of semantic integration of nominal
expressions into clausal structure; that is, the question of how various nominal
expressions are integrated semantically in their clausal formation. They are typically
integrated by way of satisfying participant roles associated with particular verbal
lexemes. Fillmore’s case-frame account and the recently proposed theta-criterion within
the GB framework—that every thematic role associated with a given predicate must be
uniquely expressed by an argument and that every argument must be uniquely associated
with a stipulated thematic role—are efforts toward the goal of defining the manner in
which nominal expressions are semantically integrated in a clausal structure.

7. Perhaps the German Dativus Incommodi construction conveys the meaning close to the
adversative reading discussed here; e.g. Mir starb die Mutter ‘Mother died on me,’ Mir rutscht die
Hose ‘The trousers slip (down) on me.’

The so-called actants are nominal expressions satisfying participant roles and they
define, together with a verbal lexeme, a situation to be described. In other words, they
Subject, voice and ergativity 14

themselves constitute a particular situation portrayed by a relevant expression. With

regard to the situation described, they have constitutive relevance, and hence are
indispensable elements in the description of the situation.
The passive diathesis typically preserves the participant roles defined by a particular
verbal lexeme and its actants are integrated by way of satisfying these roles. What is
peculiar about some Japanese passives is that their subjects do not necessarily satisfy
participant roles stipulated by the verbal lexemes. Thus, we need a theory of semantic
integration that goes beyond the theta criterion-type principle. Examine again (5b) and
(5c), for example. In the latter, regular passive the two semantic roles of the verb are
satisfied by the two nominal expressions, just as in the corresponding active form.
However, in the former, valence-increasing form the additional subject argument must be
semantically integrated by other means than satisfying the semantic roles, which are
already instantiated by the other nominal expressions.
One possible solution for this problem is to posit two separate passive morphemes for
Japanese; one that increases valency in association with a new semantic role (e.g.
<affectee>), and the other that does not affect the basic valency of the verb. The former is
then like the causative extension. This non-uniform analysis that sets up an independent
category for the valence-increasing passive is like Xolodovič’s. What is uninteresting
about this analysis is that, for one thing, it offers no explanation for the semantic
requirement discussed earlier.
Consider again Xolodovič’s example given in (7b) and the commentary provided by
him on the interpretation of the relationship between the subject and the dative phrase.
We also pointed out that for examples such as (5b), a possessive relationship is typically
imputed between the subject referent and the object referent. However, no such semantic
effect arises in the case of a valency addition that accompanies the addition of a well-
defined semantic role as the causative extension. For example, causative sentence (15a)
below requires no assumption like the one that accompanies (7b)—no special relationship
between the speaker and the kanozyo ‘she’ need be entertained—, and (15b), though a
normal reading would assume that the leg belonged to Taro, imposes no necessary
relationship between the subject referent and the object referent and easily allows the
interpretation that the leg belonged to the dog, which would be very far-fetched in the
case of (7b).
(15) a. Boku wa kanozyo ni arukaseta.
‘I had her walk.’
b. Taroo wa inu ni asi o kamaseta
Taro TOP dog DAT leg ACC bite
‘Taro made the dog bite a leg.’

Secondly, the non-uniform analysis provides no account for the adversative reading—
why is the valance-increasing passive, which introduces the new <affectee> role, not
consistently associated with the adversative reading? What is the nature of the <affectee>
role in the first place? In the case of a true valence-increasing construction, such as the
causative, valence is increased in association with a well-defined new participant role,
such as the external causative agent in the case of the causative extension. In the case of
the valence-increasing passive, however, the adversative reading is not consistently
associated with valence increase. Specifically, the body-part forms such as (5b) do not
A.A.Xolodovic on Japanese passives 15

bear the adversative meaning. In fact, there appears to be a gradation of the adversative
reading such that among (5b), (4b), and (6b), the adversative reading becomes more
pronounced in the order given. This non-categorical nature of the adversative reading
casts strong doubt on the analysis that sets up a new role such as <affectee> in
association with the valence-increasing passive morpheme.8
A satisfactory solution that answers these questions requires a broader theory of
semantic integration of the nominal expressions in their clausal formation. This theory
stipulates, like the approaches that invoke the notion of case-frames or the theta-criterion
principle, that every nominal expression must make a semantic contribution to the clause
in which it occurs. That is, there must be a good semantic reason for a nominal
expression to occur, or put differently, every nominal expression must be semantically
licensed. Nominal expressions typically satisfy this requirement of semantic integration
by means of instantiating thematic (semantic) roles stipulated by a given verb. As pointed
out earlier, these nominal expressions, together with the verb, constitute the scene
described by that particular verb. We see in the case of the valence-increasing Japanese
passive a situation where an additional noun phrase is somehow licensed, and the
problem boils down to the question of how this extra-thematic licensing is achieved. I
hold that the key concept leading to the answer for this question is that of relevance; that
is how relevant a given nominal is to the scene described.
As noted earlier, the nominal expressions instantiating the theta roles have constitutive
relevance in that they constitute the scene: the scene will not be what is described unless
the relevant participants are assumed to be involved. Now, all extra-thematically licensed
nominals must be given semantic justification for their occurrence, and the imputing of
some kind of relevance for them to a described scene constitutes this justification. The
imputation of the whole-part or the possessive relationship is the simplest and most
typical way of satisfying the relevance requirement (cf. (5b)). In a situation involving a
body-part, its owner is highly relevant to the scene; he is in fact a direct participant in the
scene, having relevance to

8. The same criticism applies to the embedding analysis of the passive that posits the higher passive
verb rare in association with the passive subject in the main clause subject position.

the scene to almost the same extent as the body-part itself.

What is remarkable about the Japanese passive is that it allows extra-thematic
semantic integration of an element with no direct relevance to the scene. Such is the case
with the expressions like (6b), (7b), (10b), and (11b). And this is where the adversative
implication is most prominently felt. The adversative reading, in other words, is imputed
as a way of semantically integrating the extra-thematic passive subject into a scene—that
it is relevant to the described scene as an entity (indirectly) affected adversely by the
happening of the event. The reason that in (6b) obaasan ‘grandmother, old lady’ is likely
to be interpreted as a relative of the subject referent is that having one’s grandmother die
is more likely to have an effect upon him than the death of a totally unrelated old lady.
The same applies to the commentary provided for (7b) by Xolodovič and to the similar
interpretations imputed to the relationship between the subject referents and kanozyo
‘she’ and Hanako in (10b) and (11b).
Subject, voice and ergativity 16

To summarize, then, the possessor interpretation or the adversative interpretation in

relation to the subject of the valence-increasing passive is the effect arising from the need
to semantically integrate the extra-thematically introduced nominal expressions. The
adversative reading is typically associated with intransitive-based passives because they
are typical valence-increasing passives, which entails the existence of extra-thematically
introduced subject nominals. But not all valence-increasing passives are associated with a
clear sense of adversity, especially when the extra-thematic passive subject is construable
as the possessor of an affected body-part. In such cases, the extra-thematic passive
subject is a directly relevant participant, and thus satisfies the relevance requirement
without being ascribed the role of an indirectly affected entity.
The above is an attempt toward a new uniform analysis of Japanese passives. There is
a single passive morpheme. It does not standardly increase valence in the same way as
the causative construction, but it simply allows an extra-thematically integrated nominal
expression. In a sense, this valence-increasing phenomenon is in between the regular
passive and a well-established valence-increasing construction such as the causative
construction in that it increases valence, yet the extra argument is not thematically
integrated, and therefore calls for additional semantic support.
A theory of semantic integration like the one outlined above is needed because, as we
have seen already, there are a number of constructions in which nominal expressions are
extra-thematically licensed. A topic construction seen in (12b) or (13) is one case in
point. While the topic construction is a well-grammaticalized construction in Japanese,
not any kind of predication of the topic will do; the topic must be semantically integrated
in such a way that it either satisfies a thematic role of the main predicate or is related to
some entity in the clause in terms of, for example, a relational concept, such that the so-
called “aboutness condition”—that the non-topic portion of the sentence tells something
about the topic—will be satisfied. (See the discussion on (12b).)
Recall that a fair number of languages, e.g. Malagasy and Bantu languages, allow
double-subject or double-object expressions involving the possessor and the possessed as
independent arguments of a clause. This phenomenon, known as “possessor ascension” in
the Relational Grammar literature, can be treated in the manner advocated here as a case
of extra-thematic licensing. Also, passives in such languages as Chinese and Korean
permit extra-thematic passive subjects, which are normally construed as the possessors of
the referent of a body-part nominal instantiating a thematic role. And then, Tungusic
languages allow valence-increasing passives to as wide an extent as Japanese (see
Malchukov 1993). Finally, the dative expressions of various kinds, especially what is
known as the Dativus Incommodi in German (see note 7), also call for a theory of extra-
thematic licensing.
We shall now turn to the final point that Xolodovič’s treatment of Japanese passives
touches upon, namely the interpretation of the null agent. When we say that passives
decrease syntactic valence, we mean that the agent need not be expressed overtly. In
English the null agent allows either a definite or indefinite interpretation; thus John was
shoved around aboard the crowded train may mean either that John was shoved around
by a particular person we are talking about or that John was shoved by someone or other.
In either interpretation, the passive null agent is syntactically null, because English does
not normally allow free omission of understood elements. However, in Japanese, which
allows free omission of understood elements, the absence of an element does not
A.A.Xolodovic on Japanese passives 17

necessarily mean reduction in syntactic valence, for the missing element could be due to
free omission. Thus, in order to ascertain whether the passive reduces syntactic valence
with respect to the agentive role, we must restrict our attention to the possibility of the
indefinite interpretation.
The regular, purely thematically sanctioned passives in Japanese also allow indefinite
interpretation of the null agent indicating its valence-reduction effect; e.g.
(16) a. Taroo wa kyoo mo sikarareta.
Tao TOP today too scold-PASS-PAST
‘Taro was scolded today too.’
b. Kono tatemono wa 1936-nen ni taterareta.
this building TOP 1936-year at build-
‘This building was built in 1936.’

The situation with the valence increasing passive, however, is not entirely clear. First, as
Xolodovič correctly points out, the agent of intransitive-based passives cannot be
normally omitted. (17a), for example, allows only a definite null interpretation, and
without an appropriate context, the agent must be overtly expressed as, e.g., in (17b).
(17) a. Aa, too-too sinarete simatta.
Oh finally die-PASS-CONJ finish-PAST
‘Oh, finally (I) ended up being subjected
to (my mother’s) death.’
b. Too-too hahaoya ni sinareta.
finally mother DAT die-PASS-PAST
‘Finally (I) had my mother die.’

However, when an extra-thematically sanctioned passive subject is interpreted as the

possessor of an affected entity, then the indefinite interpretation of the null agent is
permitted, e.g.
(18) a. Taroo wa kurayami de atama o
Tato TOP darkness in head ACC hit-
‘Taro had his head hit in the dark.’
b. Taroo wa densya de saihu o nusumareta.
Taro TOP train in purse ACC steal-PASS-
‘Taro had his purse stolen in the train.’

The possibility of the indefinite interpretation of the null agent is correlated with the way
passive subjects are licensed, but in a rather subtle manner. Again, the general
correlations between transitive-based passives and the indefinite null agent interpretation
and between intransitive-based passives and the impossibility of the same interpretation
arises from the need for semantic integration. In the transitive-based passive, the passive
subject is thematically licensed and therefore its relevance to the described scene is
obvious. But in the case of the intransitive-based passive, the passive subject needs to be
licensed on the basis of some semantic connection it holds with some other element in the
sentence. When the passive agent is null and is to be interpreted indefinitely, there is no
Subject, voice and ergativity 18

available element with which a semantic relation for the passive subject can be stipulated
(see (17a)). (One cannot easily impute relevant relationships such as the ones discussed
earlier between a particular person and an unmentioned indefinite person in general.) In
the case of the body-part or possessive passives of the type shown in (18), there is a
sufficient ground provided for establishing the relevance of the passive subject to the
described scene.9
The above discussion has centred around the three central problems associated with
the Japanese passive that also received focused attention in A.A.Xolodovič’s treatment. I
have tried to show that they are all related problems and that a unified account for them is
possible; i.e. all of them are related to the problem of extra-thematic licensing. Lengthy

9. The issue of the possibility of the indefinite null agent interpretation is more involved than
hitherto assumed, and even certain purely thematically sanctioned passives do not permit the
indefinite interpretation of the null agent. For example, the following are highly elliptical—i.e.
permitted only in the definite interpretation of the null agent: Hanako wa kurayami de oikakerareta
‘Hanako was chased in the dark.’ The contrast between this and the following highly comparable
form, which allows an indefinite interpretation, indicates that the indefinite interpretation is
possible only when the range of indefinite reference is sufficiently narrowed—i.e. the Grician
principle of quantity is involved: Hanako wa kurayami de osowareta ‘Hanako was attacked in the
dark.’ (Notice that the same point is observed with respect to the English glosses here.)

though the foregoing is, it does not exhaust all the problems associated with Japanese
passives. One outstanding problem is the interpretation of the reflexive expression seen in
different passive sentences. This and other problems, however, go beyond the scope of
Xolodovič’s paper and hence our purpose.10


Malchukov, Andrej 1993. The syntax and semantics of adversative constructions in Even. Gengo
Kenkyu 103:1–36. (The Linguistic Society of Japan).
Shibatani, Masayoshi 1990. The Languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

10. See Shibatani (1990: Chap. 11), in which I advocated a non-uniform analysis!

A translation of A.A.Xolodovič (1974). Diatezy i zalogi v sovremennom japonskom

jazyke. In Xrakovskij, V.S. (ed.) Tipologija passivnyx konstrukcij. Leningrad: Nauka.
0.1. In the Japanese examples cited in this article, the nouns accompanying a verb will
usually appear in one of the following four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and
instrumental.2 Since each case is expressed in Japanese by a single morph, these four
cases may also be called the “ga3 case”, the “o case”, the “ni case” and the “de case”
The ga case is the form taken by the syntactic subject, while the remaining three cases
characterise syntactic objects and adverbial phrases.
In addition to these four cases, there is one other case which occurs quite frequently
with verbs: the zero case (expressed by a Ø morph). This occurs in sentences where the
subject, for various reasons which need not concern us here, is not in the ga case. A
subject in the zero case is frequently accompanied by the morph wa, which characterises
the theme as opposed to the rheme, or given information as opposed to new.4
The dependence of one noun on another is expressed by adding the morph no1 (which
should not be confused with its homonym no2, used to form nouns from verbs). no1 is
not, strictly speaking, a case marker; it can connect a dependent noun to a head which is
already in some case form:

1. [J.M.K.] I would like to thank Prof. M.Shibatani, Prof T.Bynon and Miss A.Yuki for their help in
preparing this translation.
The translation is slightly abridged, mainly with respect to the number of Japanese examples
included. I have also omitted some passages comparing Japanese with Russian, which have little
relevance for the non-Russian reader. Other omissions are pointed out individually in the notes.
2. [J.M.K.] Miss Yuki informs me that the instrumental is not a core case in the same sense as the
other three cases mentioned here.
3. [J.M.K.] In transcribing the Japanese examples, I have followed the practice of Martin (1975),
rather than simply transliterating Xolodovič’s Cyrillic transcription. The following points should be
particularly noted:
(a) The transcription is phonemic, except in English glosses of Japanese proper names, where I
have used the traditional “Hepburn” system; so, for example, Japanese Ziroo is glossed as “Jirō”.
(b) Case markers are treated as separate particles (whereas Xolodovič treats them as affixes).
In the more extended Japanese examples, I have added detailed morpheme-by-morpheme glosses,
with the help of Prof. Shibatani and with reference to Martin (1975).
4. [J.M.K.] I have glossed this as TOP (an abbreviation for “topic”) in the examples.

e.g. A de no B [instrumental case+no1]5, A e no B [illative case+no1], A kara no B

[ablative case+no1], etc.
Subject, voice and ergativity 20

0.2. Japanese verb forms consist of a root morph (or possibly two root morphs) plus a
sequence of non-root morphs. All morphs, root and non-root, are joined together by
connecting vowels, the majority of which are homophonous with morphs indicating the
syntactic function of the verb form: for example, yom-i1 vs yom-i2-, where -i1- is a
connecting vowel and -i2-is a coordinating morph (analogous to the comma in the written
Root morphs may be divided into two classes, I and II.6 Root morphs of class I may be
joined to following morphs by one of five connecting vowels: -a-, -e-, -oo-, -i-, -u-. The
choice between these vowels is determined by the following morph: e.g. yom-i-tai “(I)
want to read” vs yom-a-nai “(I) do not read”. The root morphs of class II, on the other
hand, may be divided into two sub-classes, each of which always takes the same
connecting vowel. One sub-class takes -e-, the other takes -i-: e.g. nag-e-tai “(I) want to
throw”, nag-e-nai “(I) do not throw” vs ok-i-tai “(I) want to get up”, ok-i-nai “(I) do not
get up”.
Morph boundaries frequently trigger the application of various morphophonological
rules.7 These may affect both the morphs themselves and the connecting vowels, and as a
result the internal structure of words is by no means transparently agglutinative. For
example, the sequence of morphs yom-i-ta “(I) read (past)” becomes yonda by a series of
morphophonological rules; and, by the same rules, the sequence yom-i-te “having read”
becomes yonde.
1.1. Every form of a verbal lexeme, V1, may be said to have a diathesis, D1.8 This
represents information about how the noun phrases (actants) which accompany the verb
at the surface syntactic level relate to the participants inherently associated with the verb
at the semantic level (i.e. those participants which must be referred to in the lexical entry9
of the

5. [J.M.K.] Material enclosed in square brackets has been added by me, usually for the purposes of
6. [J.M.K.] Prof. Shibatani has pointed out to me that the morphophonemic analysis in this
paragraph is rather controversial; it is not, however, crucial to the subsequent discussion.
7. [J.M.K.] The original Russian has fonetičeskie izmenenija “phonetic modifications”; later in the
paragraph, however, Xolodovič uses the term morfonologičeskie pravila “morphophonological
rules” to describe the same phenomenon. I have used the latter term on both occasions, as it seems
more appropriate.
8. [J.M.K.] I have translated the two Russian terms diateza and zalog as “diathesis” and “voice”
respectively. They are very close in meaning: according to Mel‘čuk and Xolodovič (1970:117),
voice is the systematic encoding of diathesis in the morphology of the verb.
9. [J.M.K.] The Russian expression used here is slovarnoe tolkovanie (on subsequent occasions,
leksikografičeskoe tolkovanie). The literal translation would be “lexicographical interpretation”;
however, the term “lexical entry” is more meaningful to the English reader, and corresponds quite
closely, I hope, to the sense of the original. It should be borne in mind, however, that the “lexical
entry” of a verb is assumed to specify its meaning (cf. nn.25 and 28).

verb). A particular lexeme may have several diatheses, each associated with different
forms of the lexeme. One of these diatheses is assumed to be basic (D0),10 and the
remaining ones are regarded as derived from it (D0→D1).
Japanese has the following formal mechanisms for marking derived diatheses:
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 21

(1) Affixation.11 In the case of class I root morphs, the morph -r1- is added, with the
connecting vowel -a-: e.g. yom-a-r. In the case of class II root morphs, the morph -rar1-
is added, with the connecting vowel -e- or -i-, depending on the root: e.g. uk-e-rar-.
(2) Conversion. The class of the root morph is changed. This involves the replacement
of one set of connecting vowels by another. Only class I roots can undergo conversion:
e.g. Class I nom-a-→Class II nom-e-, Class I ut-a- Class II ut-e-.
(3) An analytic construction may be formed by the addition of an auxiliary to a
particular form of the verb. Since the auxiliary follows the verb, it can be considered the
head of the analytic construction, according to the rules of Japanese (the direction of
dominance being from right to left). The verbs ar-a- and Ø-i-, both meaning “be”, are
used as auxiliaries. The preceding verb consists of a root, the connecting vowel -i- (with a
class I root) or -i-/-e- (with a class II root), plus the suffix -te (the past gerund marker).
Various morphophonological rules may apply at the morph boundaries; compare, for
example, the forms sas-i-te “having stung” and sin-i-te→sinde “having died”.
Only the first way of forming derived diatheses—affixation—will be discussed in this
1.2. The voice morphs -r1- and -rar1- should not be confused with the homophonous
morphs -r2- and -rar2-, meaning “deign to” (honorific).12 The morphs -r2- and -rar2- do
not denote a shift in diathesis D0→D1; the relationships between the semantic participants
and the syntactic actants remain just the same as with the unsuffixed verb form. There are
certain restrictions on the use of -r2- and -rar2-; the important considerations are: (1) the
identity of the person expressed as syntactic subject of the sentence; and (2) the identity
of the speaker. These morphs usually express

10. [J.M.K.] It will become clear below (section 2.1) that the criterion which Xolodovič is using to
ascertain the basic diathesis is a morphological one: the basic diathesis is associated with a verb
form which does not contain a special voice marker. Note that he is departing here from the
framework set out by Xrakovskij (1974): Xrakovskij defines the basic diathesis in terms of the
correspondence between agent and syntactic subject, and considers morphological evidence to be
secondary. Xolodovič’s analysis corresponds more closely to that of Jaxontov (1974), who places
more emphasis on the morphological structure of the verb form.
11. [J.M.K.] Cf. n.6; the morphophonemic analysis here is again controversial.
12. [J.M.K.] The treatment of the passive and honorific markers as two homophonous morphs is
not the only possible analysis. Shibatani (1985:822), for example, considers “honorific” and
“passive” to be two uses of the same morph (which also has two other meanings: “spontaneous”
and “potential”), and claims that they are connected by their common function of “agent-

official politeness, and hence the speaker is generally an official personage, an official
institution, or someone representing such an institution, etc.
(1) N kakka13 wa hizyoo ni yorokonde irareta
N Excellency TOP exceedingly rejoice-GER
“His Excellency N was (hon) very pleased”
(here the use of the honorific form is
conditioned by the identity of the subject, “his
Excellency N”)
(2) Komban, Honda san wa doko e ikareta ka
Subject, voice and ergativity 22

this evening Honda Mr TOP where ILL go-

“Where did Mr Honda go (hon) this
(here the use of the honorific form is
conditioned by the identity of the speaker: he
is a policeman, who must express himself
according to the norms of official politeness)

1.3. Since -r1- and -r2-, -rar1- and -rar2- are homonyms, they can freely co-occur within a
single grammatical form (generally an analytic construction):

Sakki watasi ga kooen o zyunkaisuru to,

recently I NOM park ACC walk around-PRES when
Honda san wa sukkari meiteisite Yamakawa toyuu
Honda Mr TOP completely be drunk-GER Yamakawa called
hito ni benti ni kosikakete kaihoosarete
person DAT park bench DAT sit-GER care for-PASS-GER
orareta no desu
“Recently, when I was walking around the park, Mr Honda, sitting completely drunk
on a park bench, was being (hon) looked after by a person called Yamakawa”
(kaihoosarete orareta is an analytic durative construction formed from the verb
kaihoosa- “look after”; the -r- in kaihoosarete is the passive morph, while the -r- in
orareta is the honorific morph)

2. The lexemes korosu “kill (s.o.)”, hukiotosu “blow down (fruit, etc.; of the wind)”, ireru
“put (, into”
2.1. The lexemes korosu, hukiotosu and ireru are typical examples of a large and in
many respects heterogeneous sub-class of verbs. Many verbs with a valency of two, three
or four belong to this sub-class. In the lexical entry of these verbs the first participant [see
n. 14 below] need not necessarily be human; it may be any animate being, or even an
inanimate, though in the latter case it will usually be a natural force rather than an inert
object. The remaining participants may be either human or non-human. The participants
may fulfil a wide variety of functions, or roles; it

13. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič has kekka here, but Prof. Shibatani informs me that this must be a misprint.

is virtually impossible to reduce them to a common denominator.14 This does not,

however, prevent us from investigating the diatheses/voices of the verbs. Compare, for
example, the different semantic functions of the participant denoted by “A” in the
following sentences: A wa B o korosu “A kills B”, A wa B o karakau “A teases B”, A wa
B o sitau “A loves B”, A wa B o tureru “A accompanies B”, etc.. Despite these profound
semantic differences, all these verbs share one common property: in a sentence
containing the basic form of the verb [that is, the form with no overt voice marker], the
first participant is expressed by the syntactic subject, in either the zero case (referred to as
“ABS” [an abbreviation for “absolutive”] in the diathesis formula) or the nominative
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 23

case; and the second participant is expressed by the direct object, in the accusative case.
The diathesis associated with the basic form of these verbs begins, therefore, with the
following two correspondences:
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM) (Y=DirObACC)…
e.g. Honda wa Taroo o korosita
Honda TOP Tarō ACC kill-PAST
“Honda killed Tarō”

2.2. The lexical entry of verbs of this sub-class may, of course, have to refer to other
participants beside X and Y. The extra participant may, for example, be an instrument:

A wa B o yari de tukikorosita
A TOP B ACC lance INST pierce-PAST
“A pierced B with a lance”

a place:

A wa B o denwaguti e yonda
A TOP B ACC telephone ILL call-PAST
“A called B to the telephone”

a container:

A wa hibati ni sumi o tuida

A TOP brazier DAT coal(s) ACC add-PAST
“A added some coals to the brazier”

14. [J.M.K.] Note that Xolodovič (unlike Xrakovskij 1974) does not identify the various
participants in terms of generalised semantic roles such as agent. In a sense, the “first participant” is
simply “that participant which is expressed as subject in association with the basic form of the
verb” (the basic form having been identified by morphological criteria—cf. n.10). Although the
notion of participant is a semantic one, then, the various participants are identified by formal rather
than semantic means.
From the discussion elsewhere in the paper, however, it appears that Xolodovič believes that the set
of participants associated with a verb, and the ordering among them, is something which in
principle could be established on semantic grounds alone. His use of formal criteria may be seen as
a practical measure: it allows him to pursue his investigation of voice without being drawn into
semantic arguments.

or another name for B:

A wa B o domori to azaketta
A TOP B ACC stutterer as tease-PAST
lit. “A teased B as a stutterer”
“A teased B (by calling him) a stutterer”
Subject, voice and ergativity 24

These participants are expressed by syntactic actants in various cases. However, for verbs
in this sub-class all these extra participants, and their corresponding actants, are
irrelevant, as they play no part in distinguishing different diatheses/voices: the
correspondences which can be established between these participants and their actants in
D0 are maintained in D1. For this sub-class of verbs, only the two correspondences given
in 2.1 need to be included in the representation of D0.
2.3. Verbs of this sub-class have a derived form characterised by the morph -r1-/-rar1-
(cf. 1.1). This form may be called the “direct object/ patient passive”, and is associated
with the following diathesis:15
D1: (X=AgOb) (Y=SubABS/NOM)…

Both the number of participants and the number of actants remain the same as in D0.
However, the status of the syntactic objects is different: in D1 there is an oblique agentive
object, in contrast to the direct object of D0; moreover, this oblique object may be
2.4. The oblique object corresponding to participant X canonically appears in the
dative case:

Taroo wa Honda ni korosareta

Tarō TOP Honda DAT kill-PASS-PAST
“Tarō was killed by Honda”

This sub-class contains a number of verbs with a valency of three whose third actant is an
oblique object in the dative case. The verb hukiyoseru “blow (, somewhere; of the
wind)” is of this type:
active: Ookaze wa hune o siranai kuni ni
storm TOP ship ACC unknown land DAT
“The storm blew the ship towards an
unknown land”

When this sentence is passivized, we expect the third actant to be retained, according to
section 2.2. At the same time, according to section 2.1, the

15. [J.M.K.] The abbreviation AgOb stands for “agentive object”. Elsewhere Xolodovič refers to
this as an oblique object; the term agentive object serves to distinguish it from other kinds of
oblique object (see, for example, section 2.4). Despite its name, the agentive object is a syntactic
rather than a semantic category.
I should point out that the Russian term kosvennoe dopolnenie, which I have translated as “oblique
object”, could equally well be rendered as “indirect object”. I have chosen the former translation
because the range of the Russian term, as used by Xolodovič, is much wider than that of the
English term indirect object.

correspondence (X=AgObDAT) will appear. The resultant passive sentence will therefore
contain two datives (albeit performing different functions):
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 25

Hune wa ookaze ni siranai kuni ni hukiyoserareta

ship TOP storm DAT unknown land DAT blow-PASS-PAST
“The ship was blown towards an unknown land by the storm”

Although this sentence is grammatically correct, it is hardly acceptable from a stylistic

point of view. “Dissimilation” must take place in such instances, to avoid the
accumulation of datives. This may be effected by the replacement of the non-agentive
dative, if this is possible; for example, an illative dative may be replaced by the illative

Hune wa ookaze ni siranai kuni e hukiyoserareta

ship TOP storm DAT unknown land ILL blow-PASS-PAST
“The ship was blown towards an unknown land by the storm”

Alternatively, the agentive dative may be replaced—(a) by the ablative case (the morph
kara); (b) by the postposition yotte, which governs the dative case (N ni yotte); or (c) by
the postposition tame ni, which governs the genitive case (N no tame ni), as in the
following example:

Hune wa ookaze no tame ni siranai kuni ni

ship TOP storm GEN POSTPOS unknown land DAT
“The ship was blown towards an unknown land by the storm”

It must, however, be pointed out that these alternatives are not conditioned exclusively by
the need to dissimilate two datives. They are in fact possible even with bivalent verbs,
where there is no question of dissimilation:
(a) Nuiko wa otto kara aisarenakatta
Nuiko TOP husband ABL love-PASS-NEG-
“Nuiko was not loved by (her) husband”
(b) Nuiko wa boku ni yotte nagusameraretasoo
ni mieta
“It seemed as if Nuiko wished to be16
consoled by me”
(c) Honda si wa ano Yamakawa si no tame ni
Honda Mr TOP this same Yamakawa Mr
“Mr Honda was killed by this same Mr
Subject, voice and ergativity 26

16. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič translates this as (the Russian equivalent of) “It seemed as if Nuiko was
consoled by me”. However, Prof. Shibatani has drawn my attention to the fact that the form
nagusameraretasoo contains a desiderative morpheme, -ta-.

It is unclear whether an agentive dative can always be replaced by one of these non-
canonical agentive expressions; but it is certainly the case that any non-canonical
agentive expression can be replaced by the canonical dative case.
2.5. The agentive expression may be omitted from the passive construction, though an
agent is nevertheless implied. The implied agent may be any human being:

Wasurerareru17 no wa tamaranaku turai

forget-PASS-PRES NOUN TOP unbearably painful
“To be forgotten is unbearably painful”
(the implied agent is “anyone, people in general”)

or it may be a member of a particular group of people. This latter kind of example arises
when it would be tautologous to specify the group to which the agent belongs, and it is
either impossible or irrelevant to specify the particular individual concerned:

Tuide Yamakawa si wa kooinsareta

then Yamakawa Mr TOP arrest-PASS-PAST
“Then Mr Yamakawa was arrested”
(the verb makes it clear that the agent is a policeman, and the actual identity of the
policeman is irrelevant)

2.6. If the source of an action is a natural force, then this force may also appear as the
means by which the action is performed. We may construct the following underlying
syntactic structure for active sentences of this type:

Ookaze wa ookaze de kaoku o takusan taosita

storm TOP storm INST house ACC many demolish-PAST
lit. “The storm demolished many houses by means of the storm”

If this sentence is passivized, the underlying structure will be as follows:

Kaoku wa takusan ookaze ni ookaze de taosareta

house TOP many storm DAT storm INST demolish-PASS-
lit. “Many houses were demolished by the storm by means of the storm”

A grammatical surface structure may be obtained by deleting either the NP in the

instrumental case or the agentive dative:

Kaoku wa takusan ookaze ni taosareta

house TOP many storm DAT demolish-PASS-PAST
“Many houses were demolished by the storm”
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 27


17. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič has wasurareru, but Prof. Shibatani informs me that this must be a

Kaoku wa takusan ookaze de taosareta

house TOP many storm INST demolish-PASS-PAST
lit. “Many houses were demolished by means of the storm”

or (with a different word order and topic/comment structure):

Ookaze de kaoku ga takusan taosareta

storm INST house NOM many demolish-PASS-PAST
lit. “By means of the storm many houses were demolished”

2.7. A number of verbs such as kazaru “decorate”, hiku “drag”, sodateru “bring up” etc.
may have an instrument as one of the participants of their lexical entry; in fact, the
instrument is te “hand(s)” in each case. We would expect this participant to be expressed
as an actant in the instrumental case:

Oharu wa Oharu no/zibun no te de ningyoo o

Oharu TOP Oharu GEN self GEN hand(s) INST doll ACC
“Oharu decorated the doll”
lit. “Oharu decorated the doll with Oharu’s/her hands”

This sentence can be passivized quite straightforwardly:

Ningyoo wa Oharu ni Oharu no te de

doll TOP Oharu DAT Oharu GEN hand(s) INST
“The doll was decorated by Oharu”
lit. “The doll was decorated by Oharu with Oharu’s hands”

[In both the active and passive sentences, however, the repetition of the name Oharu
tends to be avoided, though this is achieved in different ways in the two cases.] In the
active construction, the name of the subject is usually not repeated in the instrumental
phrase, but is replaced by the reflexive pronoun zibun:

Oharu wa zibun no te de ningyoo o kazatta

Oharu TOP herself GEN hand(s) INST doll ACC decorate
“Oharu decorated the doll”
lit. “Oharu decorated the doll with her hands”
Subject, voice and ergativity 28

In the passive construction, the agentive expression is usually omitted, as the name of the
agent is retained as a genitive modifier of the instrument:

Ningyoo wa Oharu no te de kazarareta

doll TOP Oharu GEN hand(s) INST decorate-PASS-PAST
lit. “The doll was decorated with Oharu’s hands”

However, because the instrument phrase contains a reference to the agent, it often
appears in the dative case [as though it were a true agent]:
Oharu no te de → Oharu no te ni18
Oharu GEN hand(s) Oharu GEN hand(s)
“with Oharu’s “by Oharu’s hands”
e.g. Ningyoo wa Oharu no te ni kazarareta
doll TOP Oharu GEN hand(s) DAT decorate-
lit. “The doll was decorated by Oharu’s

The form te ni in phrases such as Oharu no te ni may be called a “quasiagentive object”.

2.8. The following verbs are further examples of the korosu/hukiotosu/ ireru sub-class:
(1) anzira- (pass. anzirare-) “worry about (”
active: A wa B no byooki o anziru
A TOP B GEN illness ACC worry
“A worries about B’s illness”
→ passive: B no byooki wa A ni anzirareru
B GEN illness TOP A DAT worry
lit. “B’s illness is worried about by
i.e. “B’s illness worries A”
(2) dasa- (pass. dasare-) “send (s.o.,
active: A wa B o zyotyuu ni dasita
A TOP B ACC service DAT send-
“A sent B into service”
→ passive: B wa A ni zyotyuu ni dasareta
B TOP A DAT service DAT send-
“B was sent into service by A”
(3) nerawa- (pass. neraware-) “follow (s.o.)”
active: A wa B o neratte iru
A TOP B ACC follow-GER be-
“A is following B”
→ passive: B wa A ni nerawarete iru
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 29


“B is being followed by A”
(4) osore- (pass. osorerare-) “fear (s.o./”
active: Oharu wa zidoosya o osore te iru
Oharu TOP machine(s) ACC fear-
“Oharu fears machines”,
“Oharu is afraid of machines”
→ passive: Zidoosya wa Oharu ni osorerarete
machine(s) TOP Oharu DAT fear-
lit. “Machines are feared by Oharu”

18. [J.M.K.] Miss Yuki informs me that this phrase would usually include the postposition yotte (cf.
section 2.4): Oharu no te ni yotte “by Oharu’s hands”.
(5) suku- (pass. sukare-) “like (s.o.)”
active: A wa B o suku
“A likes B”
→ passive: B wa A ni sukareru
“B is liked by A”
or “B pleases A”
(6) warawa- (pass. waraware-) “laugh at,
active: A wa B o warau
A TOP B ACC laugh at-PRES
“A ridicules B”
→ passive: B wa A ni warawareru
“B is laughed at by A”

3. The lexeme oituku “overtake, catch up with”

3.1. This lexeme is a representative of a small and totally unresearched sub-class of
verbs with a valency of two and, possibly, three. These verbs differ from the korosu sub-
class, discussed in section 2, in that their second participant is expressed, not as a direct
object, but as an oblique object in the dative case. Thus, the diathesis associated with the
basic form of these verbs begins with the following two correspondences:
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM) (Y=OblObDAT)…
e.g. Taroo wa Ziroo ni oituita
Tarō TOP Jirō DAT overtake-PAST
“Tarō overtook Jirō”

3.2. The derived form characterised by the morph -r1-/-rar1- is associated with the
following diathesis:
D1: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM)…
Subject, voice and ergativity 30

e.g. Ziroo wa Taroo ni oitukareta

Jirō TOP Tarō DAT overtake-PASS-PAST
“Jirō was overtaken by Tarō”

With these verbs (unlike verbs of the korosu sub-class), the syntactic object of the passive
has exactly the same morphological status as that of the active: both are in the dative
case. In some instances the difference between corresponding active and passive
sentences is rather slight:
e.g. active: Taroo wa Ziroo ni oitukanai
Tarō TOP Jirō DAT overtake-NEG
“Tarō does19 not overtake Jirō”
passive: Ziroo wa Taroo ni oitukarenai
Jirō TOP Tarō DAT overtake-PASS-
“Jirō is not overtaken by Tarō”

19. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič translates both the active and the passive examples by the past tense, but
Prof. Shibatani informs me that the verbs are present tense forms.

3.3. In the examples cited above the participants are human; but they could alternatively
be other animates, or even inanimate objects:
e.g. active: Inu wa Taroo ni oituita
dog TOP Tarō DAT overtake-PAST
“The dog overtook Tarō”
→ passive: Taroo wa inu ni oitukareta
Tarō TOP dog DAT overtake-PASS-
“Tarō was overtaken by the dog”
active: Taroo wa kuruma ni oituita
Tarō TOP cart DAT overtake-PAST
“Tarō overtook the cart”
→ passive: Kuruma wa Taroo ni oitukareta
cart TOP Tarō DAT overtake-PASS-
“The cart was overtaken by Tarō”
active: Sensuikan wa teikisen ni oituita
submarine TOP liner DAT overtake-
“The submarine overtook the liner”
→ passive: Teikisen wa sensuikan ni oitukareta
liner TOP submarine DAT overtake-
“The liner was overtaken by the

However, if participant X is an inanimate object, it must be something which can be

controlled by a human.20
3.4. The following verbs also belong to this sub-class:
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 31

(1) hoe- (pass. hoerare-) “bark (at s.o.)”

active: Inu wa Taroo ni hoete iru
dog TOP Tarō DAT bark-GER be-
“The dog is barking at Tarō”
→ passive: Taroo wa inu ni hoerarete iru
Tarō TOP dog DAT bark-PASS-GER
“Tarō is being barked at by a dog”
(2) iikikasa- (pass. iikikasare-) “demand (of s.o.,
that he do”
(3) iitukera- (pass. iitukerare-) “order (s.o., to do”
(4) nanora- (pass. nanorare-) “give one’s name
(to s.o.)”
(5) tukisowa- (pass. tukisoware-) “look after
active: Kangohu wa Taroo ni tukisotte iru
nurse TOP Tarō DAT look after-GER
“The nurse is looking after Tarō”
→ passive: Taro wa kangohu ni tukisowarete iru
Tarō TOP nurse DAT look after-
“Tarō is being looked after by a

It is possible that the verb nakituka- (pass. nakitukare-) “entreat (s.o.) with tears” also
belongs to this group.

20. [J.M.K.] In fact, given the meaning of the verb, this condition would seem to apply to BOTH
participants, X and Y.

4. The lexeme kaesu “give back”

4.1. This lexeme is a typical representative of a sub-class of verbs with a valency of
three. They are distinguished from other verbs with the same valency by the fact that their
third participant is human (in contrast to verbs such as ireru “put (, into”
discussed in section 2).
4.2. The diathesis associated with the basic form of these verbs begins with the same
two correspondences as that associated with the basic form of verbs of the korosu sub-
class (cf. section 2); the third participant, Z, is expressed by an oblique object in the
dative case. The basic diathesis, then, may be represented as follows:
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM) (Y=DirObACC) (Z=OblObDAT)…
e.g. Taroo wa boku ni sanen o kaesita
Tarō TOP I DAT 3 yen ACC give back-
“Tarō gave back the 3 yen to me…21
Subject, voice and ergativity 32

The first participant, X, is always human; the second, Y, may be either human or non-
human/inanimate; and the third, Z, is always human. Note that all three of these
participants are relevant, as they all play a part in the derivation of different diatheses.
This sub-class may be contrasted with the ireru sub-class (cf. section 2), where only the
first two participants are relevant.
4.3. The verbs of this sub-class, like all the verbs discussed so far, have a derived form
containing the morph -r1-/-rar1-. This form is associated with TWO different diatheses,
D1 and D2.
4.4. Diathesis D1 is as follows:
D1: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM) (Z=OblObDAT)…
e.g. Sanen wa Taroo ni boku ni kaesareta
3 yen TOP Tarō DAT I DAT give back-
“The 3 yen were given back to me by Tarō”

This diathesis resembles that discussed in section 2.3; it may be called the “direct-
object/patient passive”. The shift from D0 to D1 may be described in terms of the
following interchange between participants and actants:
(X=Sub) (Y=Ob)→(X=Ob) (Y=Sub)

This is accompanied by a change in the morphological status of the object. [The object
associated with participant Y in D0 is a direct object in the accusative case, whereas that
associated with X in D1 is an agentive object in the dative case.]

21. [J.M.K.] Prof. Shibatani informs me that inflation has rendered this and similar examples rather

4.5. There are potentially two nouns in the dative case in D1:22 the agentive object
corresponding to participant X, and the oblique object corresponding to participant Z. In
general, this accumulation of datives is avoided, usually by the omission of the agentive
e.g. Sanen wa boku ni kaesareta
3 yen TOP I DAT give-back-PASS-PAST
“The 3 yen were given back to me”

4.6. Diathesis D2 is as follows:

D2: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=DirObACC) (Z=SubABS/NOM)…
e.g. Boku wa Taroo ni sanen o kaesareta
I TOP Tarō DAT 3 yen ACC give back-
“I was given back the 3 yen by Tarō”

This may be called the “oblique-object/addressee passive”. The shift from D0 to D2 may
be described in terms of the following interchange between participants and actants:
(X=Sub) (Z=Ob)→(X=Ob) (Z=Sub)
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 33

In this case there is no change in the morphological status of the object. [Both the object
associated with participant Z in D0 and that associated with participant X in D2 are in the
dative case.]
4.7. All verbs taking an addressee and all lexical causatives belong to this sub-class.
Some of the most important verbs of each type are listed below.
Verbs taking an addressee:
(1) atae- (pass. ataerare-) “award (, to s.o.)”
ad.- Kare wa Nooberusyoo o ataerareta
pass.: he TOP Nobel prize ACC award-
“He was awarded a Nobel prize”
(2) ategawa- (pass. ategaware-) “supply
(s.o.(dat.), with (acc.))”
ad.- Oharu wa boku ni muko o
pass.: ategawareta
Oharu TOP I DAT fiancé ACC
lit. “Oharu was supplied with a
fiancé by me”
(3) nage- (pass. nagerare-) “throw (, at s.o.)”
ob.- Isi wa boku ni nagerareta
pass.: stone TOP I DAT throw-PASS-
“The stone was thrown at me”
vs ad.- Boku wa Taroo ni isi o nagerareta
pass.: I TOP Tarō DAT stone ACC throw-
“I had a stone thrown at me by Tarō”

22. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič has D2 here, but the sense suggests that he is actually talking about D1.
Since it seems appropriate for the discussion of D1 to be continuous, I have switched sections 4.5
and 4.6.
(4) ogora (pass. ogorare-) “treat (s.o. (dat.), to s.
th. (acc.))”
ad.- Taroo wa boku ni aisukuriimu o
pass.: ogorareta
Tarō TOP I DAT ice-cream ACC
“Tarō was treated to an ice-cream by

Lexical causatives:
(1) kuwasa- (pass. kuwasare-) “feed (, to
(2) nomasa- (pass. nomasare-) “give (, to
s.o.) to drink”
ad.- Boku wa sake o nomasareta
pass.: I TOP wine ACC give to drink-
Subject, voice and ergativity 34

“I was given wine to drink”

5. The lexeme nusumu “steal”

5.1. This lexeme represents a small sub-class of verbs which have a syntactic
valency23 of two, but which may be said to be three-place verbs at the semantic level. The
lexical entry of these verbs involves three participants, X, Y and Z: X is the person or
thing (e.g. a thief, a wave, or death) who/which takes something or someone (e.g. money,
or an abducted daughter); Y is the thing or person which/who is taken; and Z is the
person to whom Y belongs. There is therefore a possessive relationship between
participants Y and Z.
At the surface-syntactic level, on the other hand, the basic form of the verb has just
two actants; a subject, corresponding to participant X, and a direct object, corresponding
to participant Y:
e.g. Suri wa saihu o nusunda
pickpocket TOP purse ACC steal-PAST
“The pickpocket stole the purse”

Participant Z is expressed not as an actant of the verb, but as a genitive modifier of the
direct object (i.e. as an actant of an actant):
e.g. Suri wa boku no saihu o nusunda
pickpocket TOP I GEN purse ACC steal-
“The pickpocket stole my purse”

The basic diathesis, then, is as follows:

D0: (X=SubABS/NOM) (Y=DirObACC) (Z=ModGEN (DirOb))24

5.2. The verbs of this sub-class [like those of the kaesu sub-class] have a derived form in
-r1-/-rar1- which is associated with two different diatheses, D1 and D2.

23. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič uses the Russian term -valentnyj “having a particular valency” (e.g.
dvyxvalentnyj “having a valency of two) in a purely syntactic sense, referring to the number of
syntactic actants which must accompany the verb. I have therefore translated this term as “syntactic
valency” on some occasions, for the sake of clarity.
Xolodovič uses a separate term, -mestnyj “having a particular number of places/ slots”, to refer to
the number of semantic participants which are presupposed by the meaning of the verb.
24. [J.M.K.] I have used the abbreviation “Mod” (standing for “modifier”) instead of Xolodovič’s

5.3. Diathesis D1 is as follows:

D1: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=DirObACC) (Z=SubABS/NOM)
e.g. Boku wa suri ni saihu o nusumareta
I TOP pickpocket DAT purse ACC steal-
“I was deprived of (my) purse by a
or “I had (my) purse stolen”
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 35

The shift from D0 to D1 may be described in the following terms:

(X=Sub) (Z=Mod)→(X=Ob) (Z=Sub)

Note the change in syntactic status of the word corresponding to Z; from being an “actant
of an actant” it becomes a first-order actant (i.e. an actant of the verb in its own right).
Passivization, then, changes a verb form with a syntactic valency of two into a verb form
with a syntactic valency of three:

→ passive:

5.4. Diathesis D2 is as follows:

D2: (X=AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM) (Z=ModGEN(Sub))
e.g. Boku no saihu o suri ni nusumareta
I GEN purse ACC pickpocket DAT steal-
“My purse was stolen by a pickpocket”

The shift from D0 to D2 may be described in the following terms:

(X=Sub) (Y=Ob)→(X=Ob) (Y=Sub)

[The morphological status of the objects, however, is not the same in the two diatheses:
the object associated with participant Y in D0 is a direct object in the accusative case,
whereas that associated with X in D2 is an agentive object in the dative case.] Participant
Z is expressed in the same way in D0 as in D2, as a genitive modifier; however, in D2 it
modifies the subject rather than the direct object:

boku no saihu o→boku no saihu wa

I GEN purse ACC I GEN purse TOP
Subject, voice and ergativity 36

5.5. The following verbs belong to this sub-class: kasumera- (pass. kasumerare-),
motteyuka- (pass. motteyukare-), nusuma- (pass. nusumare-), sarawa- (pass. saraware-),
sura- (pass. surare-), tora- (pass. torare-), ubawa-(pass. ubaware-). They all have the
general meaning “take which belongs to s.o. else”, but with different stylistic
nuances: “steal”, “pilfer”, “abduct”, etc.. Another member of this sub-class is the verb
yara- (pass. yarare-), which, in one of its many different uses, can mean “steal”:
e.g. Boku wa suri ni zyuuen o yarareta
I TOP pickpocket DAT 10 yen ACC steal-
“I had 10 yen stolen by a pickpocket”

6. The lexeme kamu “bite”

6.1. The lexeme kamu is a typical representative of a small sub-class of verbs with a
syntactic valency of two. The basic form of these verbs is associated with two alternative
diatheses, and , each having a different direct object:
Inu wa Taroo no asi o kanda
dog TOP Tarō GEN leg ACC bite-PAST
“The dog bit Tarō’s leg”
: Inu wa Taroo o kanda
dog TOP Tarō ACC bite-PAST
“The dog bit Tarō”

It seems that this difference must be ascribed to the functional domain—that is, to a
difference in the participants denoted by the alternative direct objects. It is helpful to
assume that the lexical entry of kamu refers to three participants, X, Y and Z.25 There are
two possible interpretations of participants Y and Z; either Y is the patient and Z is the
affected part of Y, or Y is the addressee and Z the patient. These differences in
interpretation are, however, irrelevant for our purposes.
Under the assumption that the lexical entry of these verbs does indeed refer to three
participants, the two variant diatheses exemplified above may be represented as follows:

Both and are marked in the same way on the verb, by a zero morph: kan-Ø-da
“bit”. In both of these diatheses, participant X is expressed as subject, and in Japanese the
verb receives an overt voice marker only when the correspondence (X=Sub) is broken.
6.2. It should be pointed out that the form kama- has a syntactic valency of two in both
of these diatheses: in participant Y is expressed as a second-order actant (as an “actant
of an actant”, rather than as an actant of the verb itself); while in participant Z is not
expressed at all.
6.3. The derived form kamare- signals the shift :

→ D1 (X=AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM) (Z=DirObACC)

e.g. active: Inu wa Taroo no asi o kanda
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 37

dog TOP Tarō GEN leg ACC bite-PAST

“The dog bit Tarō’s leg”
→ passive: Taroo wa inu ni asi o kamareta
Tarō TOP dog DAT leg ACC bite-PASS-PAST
Tarō had his leg bitten by a dog”
or “Tarō was bitten on the leg by a dog”

This shift involves only participants X and Y; the correspondence (Z= DirOb) remains
unchanged. The derived form kamare- has one more actant (albeit optional) than the
basic form. This increase in valency is in some respects paradoxical, in view of the fact
that we are dealing with voice; it will be discussed in more detail in section 10.

25. [A.A.X.] The issue of whether a fourth participant—the instrument—may, and perhaps must,
be referred to in the lexical entry (to distinguish kamu “bite” from sasu “string”, for example) bears
no relation to our topic: this participant, if expressed overtly at all, corresponds to the same type of
actant [a noun phrase in the instrumental case] in all diatheses. There are some instances in which
this actant must be mentioned: for example, if a particular feature of the instrument is being
characterised (“He bit with very sharp teeth”); or if it is necessary to specify precisely which
instrument is involved (if the verb permits a choice of instruments):
e.g. asi de keru vs kutu de keru
leg INST kick- boot INST kick-
“kick with one’s ‘kick with one’s
leg” boot”

6.4. It is not possible to derive a new diathesis *D2 from the alternative basic diathesis,
active: Inu wa Taroo o kanda
dog TOP Tarō ACC bite-PAST
“The dog bit Tarō”
passive: Taroo wa inu ni kamareta
Tarō TOP dog DAT bite-PASS-PAST
“Tarō was bitten by a dog”

The above passive construction is, in fact, grammatical, but it is incomplete,26 and does
not represent a distinct diathesis, *D2: (X= AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM) (Z=Ø). It results,
instead, from the shift , with ellipsis of the direct object asi o “leg ACC”,
expressing participant Z. The verb form kamare- is always associated with diathesis D1:
(X=AgObDAT) (Y=SubABS/NOM) (Z=DirObACC).
6.5. If participant Y is analysed as the addressee [and Z as the patient—cf. section
6.1], then the passive of these verbs must be regarded as an addressee-passive rather than
as a patient-passive: the subject never corresponds to the patient Z (that is, the affected
part of Y’s body).
6.6. If it is irrelevant to specify precisely which part of Y’s body is affected, then [in
the passive] the place of participant Z is occupied by a noun such as mi or karada, both
meaning “body”:
e.g. Kodomo wa ressya ni karada o hikareta
Subject, voice and ergativity 38

child TOP train DAT body ACC run-over-

“The child was run over by a train”
lit. “The child had (his) body run over by a
(it is not important to specify precisely which
part of the child’s body suffered the injury
which led to his death)

6.7. Some of the verbs belonging to this sub-class are listed below:
(1) hara- (pass. haraware-) “slap (s.o.’s face)”
active: Boku wa Taroo no yokogao o hatta
( ) I TOP Tarō GEN face ACC slapped
“I slapped Tarō’s face”
→ passive: Taroo wa boku ni yokogao o
(D1) harareta
Tarō TOP I DAT face ACC slap-
“Taro had (his) face slapped by me”
(2) kira- (pass. kirare-) “chop off”
passive: Kare wa kubi o kirareta
he TOP head ACC chop off-PASS-
“He had (his) head chopped off”

26. [J.M.K.] According to Prof. Shibatani (p. c.), this construction is, not, in fact, elliptical, and
may, therefore, be analysed as the passive counterpart of .
(3) nagura- (pass. nagurare-) “hit”
active: A wa B no kao o nagutta
“A hit B’s face”
or “A hit B in the face”
→ passive: B wa A ni kao o nagurareta
B TOP A DAT face ACC hit-PASS-
“B had (his) face hit by A”
or “B was hit in the face by A”

6.8. The verbs listed above all take a direct object in the accusative case; but there are
also a number of verbs in this sub-class which instead take an oblique object in the dative
case: e.g. kamituka- (pass. kamitukare-), kuituka- (pass. kuitukare-), both with the
meaning “sting, bite”. The basic form of these verbs again has two diatheses; in one case
participant Z, and in the other participant Y, appears in the dative case:
Inu wa Taroo no asi ni kamituita
dog TOP Tarō GEN leg DAT bite-PAST
“The dog bit Tarō’s leg”
Inu wa hito ni kuituku
dog(s) TOP people DAT bite-PRES
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 39

“Dogs bite people”

We would expect the derived passive form to appear in a construction with two datives
(one expressing participant X and the other participant Z):
D1 Taroo wa inu ni asi ni kamitukareta
Tarō TOP dog DAT leg DAT bite-PASS-
“Tarō had (his) leg bitten by a dog”
or “Tarō was bitten in the leg by a dog”

Although such a sentence is grammatically correct, it is hardly acceptable from a stylistic

point of view. Consequently, the passive of these verbs is used more frequently when
there is no necessity to specify participant Z:
e.g. Kare wa hebi ni kamitukareta
he TOP snake DAT bite-PASS-PAST
“He was bitten by a snake”

or when participant X is obvious from the context and may therefore be omitted:
e.g. Kare wa doko ni kamitukareta ka
he TOP where DAT bite-PASS-PAST
Kare wa te ni kamitukareta
he TOP hand DAT bite-PASS-PAST
“Where was he bitten? He was bitten on the

There is also another way of avoiding this stylistic difficulty: one of the two datives,
namely the one expressing participant Z, may be replaced by the accusative case. In fact,
this may sometimes occur even in circumstances where participant X is omitted, and
where the replacement is therefore not “forced”:
e.g. Kare wa karada no doko o kamitukareta ka
he TOP body GEN where ACC bite-PASS-
“Where on his body was he bitten?”

Alternatively, the dative expressing participant Z may be replaced by the illative case
(doko e); this sometimes occurs in the active as well as in the passive.
6.9. In section 6.1 it was suggested that the lexical entry of the basic form of the verb
kamu refers to three participants.27 We could, however, propose a rather different analysis
for kamu, treating it instead as a verb denoting a two-place situation.28 The two
participants will be X, the biter, and Y, whatever is bitten—that is, the patient. Participant
Y may be either human:
e.g. Inu wa Taroo o kanda
dog TOP Tarō ACC bite-PAST
“The dog bit Tarō”

or non-human:
e.g. Inu wa asi o kanda [incomplete as it stands—
Subject, voice and ergativity 40

see below]
dog TOP leg ACC bite-PAST
“The dog bit the leg”

In each case, the basic form of the verb has a syntactic valency of two, and is associated
with a single diathesis:
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM) (Y=DirObACC)

A direct object corresponding to a human Y may express either a relational concept (e.g.
obaasan “grandmother”) or a non-relational concept (e.g. Taroo “Tarō”). If the concept is
relational, the actant must have a genitive modifier:
e.g. Inu wa boku no obaasan o kanda
dog TOP I GEN grandmother ACC bite-
“The dog bit my grandmother”

If it is non-relational, no such modifier is necessary. In neither case,

27. [J.M.K.] This wording is interesting in that it suggests that different forms of a verb may have
different lexical entries; cf. section 10.
28. [J.M.K.] The term “situation” (Russian situacija) is being used here in a technical sense; its
nearest equivalent is “predicate” (in the semantic sense of “predicate/argument structure”).
The situation is the semantic counterpart of the verb: the situation denoted by a particular verb is
equivalent to the meaning of that verb, as specified in its lexical entry (cf. n.9, and Mel‘čuk and
Xolodovič 1970:112). The situation has a number of variables, or slots; it is these slots which are
known as participants.

however, can the construction be passivized.

A direct object corresponding to a non-human Y, on the other hand, can only express a
relational concept, more specifically a part of the body (e.g. asi “leg”); and the actant
must be accompanied by a genitive modifier, expressing the whole of which the actant is
a part:
e.g. Inu wa boku no asi o kanda
dog TOP I GEN leg ACC bite-PAST
“The dog bit my leg”

This construction may be passivized: the passive verb form kamare- has a syntactic
valency of three, in constrast to the active form kama- with a syntactic valency of two.
The additional, third actant denotes a person affected by the action of biting, and
corresponds to the genitive modifier of the active construction. It assumes the status of
subject in the passive, while the noun which was subject of the active is demoted to an
agentive object:
e.g. Boku wa inu ni asi o kamareta
I TOP dog DAT leg ACC bite-PASS-PAST
“I was bitten in the leg by a dog”
or “I had (my) leg bitten by a dog”

7. The lexeme kiku “ask”

Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 41

7.1. The analysis of kamu suggested in the previous section allows us to draw the
following conclusion. The set of diatheses associated with a verb is determined, in some
cases, solely by the lexical entry of the verb itself; this is true of lexemes such as korosu
(cf. section 2). However, in other cases it is determined partly by the meaning of one of
the actants of the verb (usually the actant denoting the patient): if the patient is a
relational concept (for example, part of a whole), then the verb will have one set of
diatheses; if it is non-relational concept, then it will have a different set of diatheses. If
this approach is adopted, it becomes clear why the set of diatheses associated with kamu
(under the analysis suggested in section 6.9), and indeed with all verbs meaning “cause
injury to s.o./part of s.o.’s body”, is also shared by verbs of other semantic classes. Some
characteristic examples are discussed below.
7.2. The lexeme kiku “ask”
(a) e.g. A wa miti o kiita29
A TOP way ACC ask-PAST
“A asked the way”

In this case, the direct object denotes a patient with a non-relational meaning, and the set
of diatheses is the same as for the verb korosu (cf. section 2.)

29. [J.M.K.] Note that kiku and the other verbs discussed in this section differ from kamu in that, if
participant Y is non-relational, passivization can still occur, whereas kamu cannot be passivized at
all under these circumstances.
(b) e.g. A wa na o kiita
A TOP name ACC ask-PAST
“A asked the name”

Here the direct object denotes a patient with a relational meaning (an inalienable
possession or part of a whole). The example given above is incomplete, as the possessor
is not mentioned; the complete sentence would be:

A wa boku no na o kiita30
“A asked my name”

The set of diatheses in this case is the same as for the verb kamu “bite” (under the
analysis proposed in section 6.9). The basic form (as exemplified above) has a syntactic
valency of two, while the derived passive form has a syntactic valency of three:

Boku wa A ni na o kikareta31
“I was asked (my) name by A”

The following verbs operate in a similar way:

(1) hisigu “crush”
(a) Non-relational patient
active: A wa teki o hisiida
A TOP enemy ACC crush-PAST
Subject, voice and ergativity 42

“A crushed the enemy”

→ passive: Teki wa A ni hisigareta
enemy TOP A DAT crush-PASS-
“The enemy was crushed by A”
(b) Relational patient
active: A wa kare no aragimo o hisiida
A TOP him GEN liver ACC crush-
“A overwhelmed him” (idiomatic)

30. [J.M.K.] According to Prof. Shibatani (p. c.), there should be a dative NP, boku ni, in this
construction, and the genitive NP, boku no, is optional. The construction would then read as

A wa boku ni (boku no) na o kiita

“A asked me my name”

and the active verb would have a syntactic valency of three, like the passive. This comment does
not, however, apply to all the verbs which Xolodovič includes in this section; for example, the verb
hukitobasu “blow away (of the wind)” cannot take a dative NP in the active. It would therefore
seem that there are two distinct sub-classes of verbs here, where Xolodovič distinguishes only one.
31. [J.M.K.] Prof. Shibatani informs me that an optional genitive, duplicating the reference of the
subject, can occur in this sentence (cf. n.30 above):

Boku wa A ni (boku no) na o kikareta

“I was asked my name by A”
→ passive: Kare wa A ni aragimo o hisigareta
he TOP A DAT liver ACC crush-
“He was overwhelmed by A”
This example shows that the phenomenon also
affects idiomatic expressions such as aragimo
o hisigu “overwhelm”.
(2) hukitobasu “blow away (of the wind)”
(a) Non-relational patient
active: Kaze wa kami o hukitobasita
wind TOP paper ACC blow away-
“The wind blew the paper away”
→ passive: Kami wa kaze ni hukitobasareta
paper TOP wind DAT blow-away-
“The paper was blown away by the
(b) Relational patient
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 43

active: Kaze wa boku no boosi o

wind TOP I GEN hat ACC blow
“The wind blew my hat away”
→ passive: Boku wa kaze ni boosi o
I TOP wind DAT hat ACC blow-
“I had (my) hat blown away by the
(3) oru “break”
(a) Non-relational patient
active: A wa hana o otta
A TOP flower ACC break-PAST
“A picked (lit.: broke) the flower”
→ passive: Hana wa A ni orareta
flower TOP A DAT break-PASS-
“The flower was picked (lit.: broken)
by A”
(b) Relational patient
active: Yuki wa matu no eda o otta
snow TOP pine GEN branch ACC
“The snow broke the branch of the
→ passive: Matu wa yuki ni eda o orareta
pine TOP snow DAT branch ACC
“The pine-tree had (its) branch
broken by the snow”

8. The lexemes sinu “die”, huru “fall (of snow, rain)”, etc.
8.1. The lexemes sinu and huru are typical representatives of a small sub-class
consisting of verbs with a valency of one, and in some cases possibly zero. In general,
these verbs denote situations which affect an individual adversely, either because they are
inherently unpleasant (e.g. yamu “be ill”) or because they may have unpleasant
consequences in certain circumstances (e.g. kuru “come, arrive”, yuku “leave”). The
verbs of this sub-class clearly fall into at least two groups, each of which will be
discussed separately.
8.2. The verb sinu “die” in its basic form, sina-, has a syntactic valency of one, and
denotes a situation with one participant, X, the person who dies. The basic form is
associated with the following diathesis:
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM)
e.g. Kanozyo wa sinda
she TOP die-PAST
“She died”
Subject, voice and ergativity 44

If the subject is a noun with a relational meaning, it is accompanied by a noun or pronoun

in the genitive case.
e.g. Watasi no obaasan ga sinda
I GEN grandmother NOM die-PAST
“My grandmother died”

8.3. The derived form, sinare-, containing the morph -r1-, signals the following shift in
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM)
→ D1: (X=AgObDAT) (Ø=SubABS/NOM)

As is evident from the representation of diathesis D1, this form has a syntactic valency of
two; moreover, both actants are obligatory:
e.g. Watasi wa kanozyo ni sinareta
“I suffered her death”
or Watasi wa obaasan ni sinareta
I TOP grandmother DAT die-PASS-PAST
“I suffered the death of (my) grandmother”

The noun or pronoun denoting participant X is demoted from subject position (as in all
the passive examples discussed so far), and is expressed as an oblique object in the dative
case: kanozyo ni, obaasan ni. The additional actant of the passive denotes an individual
affected by the action expressed in the verb, either physically (in the case of verbs such as
huku “blow (of the wind)”, huru “fall (of rain, show)”; cf. section 8.7), or
psychologically/emotionally (in the case of verbs such as sinu “die”). This extra actant
corresponds to an “empty” participant slot—that is, corresponds to a participant which is
not stipulated in the lexical entry of the verb; it has the syntactic status of subject.
What is the origin of this extra actant? If participant X is a noun expressing an
inherently relational concept (e.g. obaasan “grandmother”), then in the active
construction it must be accompanied by a genitive modifier, and it is this modifier which
becomes the subject of the corresponding passive:
e.g. active: Watasi no obaasan ga sinda
I GEN grandmother NOM die-PAST
“My grandmother died”
→ passive: Watasi wa obaasan ni sinareta
I TOP grandmother DAT die-PASS-PAST
“I suffered the death of (my) grandmother”
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 45


→ passive:

If participant X is a noun/pronoun expressing a non-relational concept (e.g. kanozyo

“she”), then the extra participant of the passive comes from the real-world context:

Boku wa kanozyo ni sinareta

“I suffered her death” (“I” could be her husband, or lover)

This passive sentence does not have an active counterpart [containing a genitive

*Boku no kanozyo wa sinda32

I GEN she TOP die-PAST
*“My she died”

32. [J.M.K.] A Japanese student informs me, and Prof. Shibatani confirms, that the pronoun
kanozyo “she” is not a good example of a non-relational concept, since it can also have the
(inherently relational) meaning “girlfriend”. This supposedly deviant sentence can therefore occur,
with the meaning “My girlfriend died”.

8.4. The following verbs belong to the same group as sinu:

(1) donara- (pass. donarare-) “shout”33
passive: Watasi wa yoku donarareta
I TOP often shout-PASS-PAST
“I often suffered shouting”
Subject, voice and ergativity 46

or “I was often shouted at”

(2) naka- (pass. nakare-) “cry, weep”
passive: Haha wa kodomo ni nakareru
mother TOP child DAT cry-PASS-
“The mother suffers (her) child’s
(3) taore- (pass. taorerare-) “take to one’s bed
(because of illness)”

8.5. The verbs listed above all denote events which are inherently unpleasant. The list
does not include verbs such as kuru “come”, or yuku “leave”, which may on occasion
denote unpleasant events, and which can then occur in the derived forms korare- and
ikare-. The subject of these derived forms denotes the person for whom the
arrival/departure of X is unpleasant:
e.g. Kyooma watasi wa kanozyo ni korareru to
today I TOP she DAT come-PASS-PAST if
be unpleasant-PRES
“It will be unpleasant if I suffer her coming

8.6. The verb huru “fall (of rain, snow)” denotes a situation with one participant, X, the
thing which falls (i.e. rain, snow, etc.). It has a syntactic valency of one, and is associated
with the following diathesis:
D0: (X=SubABS/NOM)
e.g. Ame ga hutta
rain NOM fall-PAST
“Rain fell”, “It rained”

The derived form hurare- signals the shift D0→D1:

D0: (X=SubABS/NOM)
→ D1: (X=AgObDAT) (Ø=SubABS/NOM)

As is evident from the representation of D1, the derived form has a syntactic valency of
two; moreover, both actants are obligatory:
e.g. Sato san wa ame ni hurareta
Sato Mr TOP rain DAT fall-PASS-PAST
“Mr Sato was caught in the rain”, “Mr Sato
was rained on”
lit. “Mr Sato was fallen on by the rain”

33. [J.M.K.] According to Prof. Shibatani (p. c.), this is not a good example, because the verb
donaru can also be used transitively, with the meaning “shout at”.

The verb huku “blow (of the wind)” behaves in a similar fashion:34
e.g. active: Kaze ga huita
wind NOM blow-PAST
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 47

“The wind blew”

→ passive: Sato san wa kaze ni hukareta
Sato Mr TOP wind DAT blow-
“Mr Sato was blown on by the wind”

8.7. The extra actant denotes someone or something affected by the action or event
expressed in the verb.35 In the examples cited above, it is a person who is affected; in the
following example, it is an inanimate object:
e.g. Sensei no boost ga kaze ni hukarete otita
he GEN hat NOM wind DAT blow-PASS-
GER fall off-PAST
“His hat, blown by the wind, fell off”

8.8. The new actant corresponds to a participant which is not stipulated in the lexical
entry of the verb; it is in fact possible for the wind to blow without affecting anyone or
anything, physically or otherwise.
Where, then, does this actant come from? Since in active sentences such as Kaze ga
huku “The wind is blowing” there are no relational concepts, the answer is obvious: it
must come from the context (cf. examples such as Boku wa kanozyo ni sinareta “I
suffered her death”, discussed in 8.3).
8.9. An alternative lexical entry might be proposed for the verbs huru and huku,
referring to TWO participants: X, the thing which falls or blows (i.e the snow/rain or
wind), and Y, the person or thing affected by the action. This is appropriate if one
considers that all actions, without exception, have a pragmatic setting, and that they make
no sense in isolation from this. A lexeme denoting such a two-place situation may be
associated with two diatheses. In one case, both participants are expressed: (Y=Sub) (X
=AgOb). This diathesis is marked in the verb by the morph -r1-/-rar1-:
e.g. Sato san wa kaze ni hukareta
Sato Mr TOP wind DAT blow-PASS-PAST
“Mr Sato was blown on by the wind”

In the other case, only participant X36 is expressed; participant Y must be

34. [A.A.X.] A noun in the accusative case may appear in the active construction; however, it
fulfils an adverbial function and does not increase the syntactic valency of the verb or its number of
participants slots;
e.g. yami o huku
darkness ACC blow-PRES
“blow in the darkness”

35. [A.A.X.] The extra actant, whether a person or an inanimate object, is found already in
Classical Japanese texts.
36. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič has “participant Y” here, and “participant X” later on in the sentence; the
sense of the passage, however, suggests that these two should be reversed.

omitted: (X=Sub) (Y=Ø). This diathesis is characterised by a zero morph:

Subject, voice and ergativity 48

e.g. Kaze ga huku

wind NOM blow-PRES
“The wind is blowing”

Under this analysis it is preferable to treat hukare-, rather than huka-, as the basic form.37
9. The lexeme torawareru “be enveloped (by”
9.1. The basic forms of the verbs considered so far have all been associated with a
diathesis D0 beginning with the correspondence (X= Sub). The verb torawareru, by
contrast, is a representative of an exceptional sub-class of verbs with a single diathesis D,
containing the correspondence (Y=Sub); participant X is expressed as an agentive object.
In other words, the single diathesis of these verbs is equivalent to the DERIVED
diathesis, D1 associated with the derived forms of verbs such as korusu “kill”:
e.g. Kare wa kyoohu ni torawareta
he TOP fear DAT be enveloped-PAST
“He was enveloped by fear”

The members of this sub-class may be called “[inherently] passive” verbs. All their forms
contain the morph -r1-/-rar1-; there are no contrasting forms with a zero morph.
9.2. The following verbs, among others, belong to this sub-class:
(1) akke ni torare- “be amazed”, lit. “be seized by
(an idiomatic expression containing the noun
akke “amazement” as AgOb)
e.g. Boku wa akke ni torareta
I TOP amazement DAT be seized-PAST
“I was amazed”
lit. “I was seized by amazement”
(2) torinokosare- “be left behind (by”
e.g. Boku wa ikada kara/ni torinokosareta
I TOP raft ABL/DAT be left behind-
“I was left behind by the raft”
(3) yakedasare- “be left homeless”

Some of these verbs do not have an active counterpart at all (e.g. torinokosare-); others
do have a corresponding active form, but it has a different meaning (e.g. torare-; the
active tora- cannot occur with the noun akke).

37. [J.M.K.] This suggests that morphological complexity is not the sole criterion for determining
basicness, but is simply a useful guide; cf. nn.10 and 14.

10. Reinterpretation
In sections 2–8 we investigated the relationships between the various diatheses, D0, D1
and D2, associated with the basic and derived forms of verbs. As a result, three types of
relationship emerged.38
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 49

Type A
(1a) D0: A wa B o korosita
“A killed B”
(1b) D1: B wa A ni korosareta
“B was killed by A”
(2a) D0: A wa B ni oituita
A TOP B DAT overtake-PAST
“A overtook B”
(2b) D1: B wa A ni oitukareta
“B was overtaken by A”
(3a) D0: A wa B ni C o kaesita
A TOP B DAT C ACC give back-PAST
“A gave back C to B”
(3b) D1: C wa B ni A ni/kara kaesareta
C TOP B DATA DAT/ABL give back-
“C was given back to B by A”
(3c) D2: B wa A ni C o kaesareta
B TOP A DAT C ACC give back-PASS-
“B was given back C by A”

Type B
(4a) D0: A wa B no C o nusunda
“A stole B’s C”
(4b) D1: B wa A ni C o nusumareta
“B had (his) C stolen by A”
(4c) D2: B no C wa A ni nusumareta
“B’s C was stolen by A”
(5a) D0: A wa B no C o kanda
“A bit B’s C”
(5b) D1: B wa A ni C o kamareta
“B had (his) C bitten by A”

38. [A.A.X.] The intermediate type kiku “ask” which belongs both to type (1) and to type (4)—(5),
is excluded from this classification.
(6a) D0: B no A wa sinda
“B’s A died”
Subject, voice and ergativity 50

(6b) D1: B wa A ni sinareta

“B suffered A’s death”

Type C
(7a) D0: Ame ga hutta
rain NOM fall-PAST
“Rain fell”, “It rained”
(7b) D1: Boku wa ame ni hurareta
“I was caught in the rain”, “I was rained

Type A is characterised by the fact that the number of actants in D1 and D2 [where
applicable] is the same as in D0. In types B and C, on the other hand, the derived forms
have diatheses with more actants than D0: in type B, the extra first-order actant in D1
corresponds to a second-order actant (an actant of an actant) in D039 while in type C, the
extra actant is something “external” to both the verb and its actants. According to the
traditional notion of voice, however, a verb in a derived voice form either has the same
number of actants as the basic form, or fewer actants. The possibility of its having MORE
actants is completely foreign to this conception of voice. Types B and C must therefore
be analysed separately.
We shall assume that in cases (4)–(7) above the morph -r1-/-rar1- signals not only an
increase in the number of syntactic actants, but also an increase in the number of relevant
participants. In other words, it signals a change in the situation.40 The lexical entry of the
derived form must consequently be different from that of the basic form; in other words,
the derived form may be said to constitute a separate lexeme. We would suggest that the
extra participant is, in fact, a causer; that is, “someone who, through carelessness or
inadvertence, allows someone to do something (generally something unpleasant) to him,
the causer”. There is an element of [semantic] reflexivity here which is not expressed in
the surface syntax of the sentence:
(4b) B wa A ni C o nusumareta
“B let A steal C (from him, B)”
(5b) B wa A ni C o kamareta
“B let A bite (his, B’s) C”

39. [J.M.K.] In D2 of example (4), there is no extra actant; this case is just like the type A examples.
40. [J.M.K.] Cf. n.28. A particular situation has a fixed number of participant “slots”; if two verb
forms are associated with a different number of participants, then they must denote different
(6b) B wa A ni sinareta
“B let (his, B’s) A die”
(7b) B wa A ni hurareta
“B let A (=rain, snow) fall (on him, B)”
Diatheses and voices in Modern Japanese 51

The meaning of these constructions may be described as “reflexive permissive”, or, more
precisely, “subjective reflexive permissive” (since the implicit reflexive element is
coreferential with the causer/subject).
The reflexive-permissive analysis may, in fact, be extended to canonical passive
examples (type A):
(1b) B wa A ni korosareta
“B (inadvertently) let A kill (him, B)”

Under this analysis, Japanese would belong typologically to the group of languages
whose passive constructions have developed from earlier causative—more precisely,

41. [J.M.K.] Xolodovič is not suggesting here that the passive is etymologically related to the
present-day Japanese causative, but rather that it developed from an earlier causative formation.
This proposal is, of course, rather speculative, since it is not based on any concrete historical
evidence. However, close connections between causative and passive constructions are known to
exist in other languages (cf. Nedjalkov and Sil’nickij 1969:38, Nedjalkov 1976:244ff.); indeed,
Shibatani (1985:840) describes the “passive/ causative correlation” as “familiar” (though he does
not suggest any such correlation for Japanese).
Xolodovič goes on to suggest, in a final paragraph, that the postulated causative origins of the
passive may be connected with the fact that the passive morph can be used to denote the non-
causative (or spontaneous) member of a causative/non-causative (i.e. that it can function as an anti-
causative marker):
e.g. yuuhatusuru “give rise to, cause to arise”
vs yuuhatusareru “arise, appear”

At first sight, it seems surprising that he uses this present-day anti-causative meaning of the passive
marker to support his hypothesis that this marker previously had a causative meaning; this would
appear to involve a semantic reversal. However, it is crucial that the postulated earlier meaning was
not simply causative, but causative-reflexive; and a change from causative-reflexive to anti-
causative is not implausible:
cause-refl “A let itself arise”>anti caus “A arose”


Jaxontov, S.E. 1974. ‘Formal’noe opredelenie zaloga.’ In Xolodovič, A.A. (ed.) Tipologija
passivnyx konstrukcij. Leningrad: Nauka, 46–53.
Martin, S.E. 1975. A reference grammar of Japanese. New Haven (Conn.): Yale University Press.
Mel‘čuk, I.A and Xolodovič, A.A. 1970. ‘K teorii grammatičeskogo zaloga.’ Narody Azii i Afriki 4,
Nedjalkov, V.P. 1976. Kausativkonstruktionen. (Translated from Russian by V.Kuchler and
H.Vater.) Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Nedjalkov, V.P. and Sil’nickij, G.G. 1969. ‘Tipologija morfologičeskogo i leksičeskogo
kauzativov.’ In Xolodovič, A.A. (ed.) Tipologija kauzativnyx konstrukcij, Morfologičeskij
kauzativ. Leningrad: Nauka, 20–50.
Shibatani, M. 1985. ‘Passives and related constructions: a prototype analysis.’ Language 61, 821–
Subject, voice and ergativity 52

Xrakovskij, V.S. 1974. ‘Passivnye konstrukcii.’ In Xolodovič, A.A. (ed.) Tipologija passivnyx
konstrukcij. Leningrad: Nauka, 5–45.
Judith Knott

It is well-known that in some languages causative and passive constructions share the
same verbal morphology. For example, Nedjalkov and Sil’nickij (1969:38) include
passive among the range of functions which may be performed by causative morphology
cross-linguistically; and Shibatani (1985:840) describes the causative-passive correlation
as ‘familiar’.1 An example of this link is found in English, where constructions such as
Peter had a book stolen allow both causative and passive readings. In this paper, I shall
try to show that certain fairly common uses of causative morphology share crucial
properties in common with passives, and that it is possible to reconstruct a plausible
diachronic development linking the two types of construction.2 I shall then discuss a
particular example of the correlation from the Tungusic language Evenki.

Passives and causatives contrasted

One of the essential properties of passive constructions is the non-correspondence

between the agent and the surface subject.3 This is a negative property, and it involves the
tacit assumption that we would generally expect agents to be expressed as surface
subjects. There is in fact both inter- and intralinguistic evidence that this assumption is
correct; that is, there does seem to be a general tendency to express agents as surface
subjects (cf., for example, Marantz 1984:33ff.). There are, of course, languages with a
high degree of syntactic ergativity, such as Dyirbal, which do not conform to this
generalisation, but they seem to be relatively few in number. Equally, many languages
which do adhere to the principle have constructions—namely passives—which violate it;
these constructions have a relatively low text frequency, and usually contain some overt
marker such as an auxiliary or affix.

1. I am interested here in cases where a construction as a whole can have either a causative or a
passive interpretation. There is another phenomenon linking causatives and passives, the so-called
passive analysis of causatives (discussed for example by Comrie 1981): in certain languages it has
been claimed that causative constructions are actually causatives of passives (on the grounds that
causee is expressed in the same way as the agent in passive constructions, and that various
restrictions on the formation of the two constructions coincide). This phenomenon will not be
discussed here.
2. My thinking on this topic has been heavily influenced by the work of the Leningrad typology
group (including such scholars as V.P.Nedjalkov). This paper contains a number of references to
specific publications by members of the group, but I must also acknowledge a more general debt.
Subject, voice and ergativity 54

3. For some linguists, e.g. Xrakovskij (1974), this is the defining property of passive constructions;
for the purposes of my argument, however, we simply have to agree that it is one of the essential
properties of passive constructions.

The tendency for agents to be expressed as subjects can, in fact, be phrased in more
general terms, using the notion of control over the action denoted by the verb (cf. Comrie
1981 and Dixon 1979): the NP with the greatest degree of control over the action (which
I shall call the “controller NP”) is generally expressed as surface subject.4 The NP in
question will, of course, typically be the agent. The advantage of expressing the
generalisation in terms of control is that it can be extended quite straightforwardly to
causative constructions. The NP with greatest control in a causative construction is the
causer, and it is this NP which is generally expressed as surface subject:5
(1) Nivkh (data from Nedjalkov, Otaina and
Xolodovič 1969)
n’-ax ti:r phuv-gu-d’
father I-CAUSEE6 firewood saw-CAUS-
“causer” “causee”
“Father made me saw some firewood”

If, on the other hand, we consider causative constructions from the point of view of the
expression of the agent, we face a problem because (at least in so-called indirect
causatives such as the example above) there are TWO NPs—the causer and the causee—
which could be considered agents. For one thing, the causer could be regarded as agent of
an underlying higher predicate of causation, while the causee is agent of a subordinate
predicate corresponding to the verb root. But even with respect to the action denoted by
the verb root, the causer and causee could be said to share the properties of agent: the
causer initiates the action and the causee actually performs it.7 If the NPs in causative
constructions are viewed in terms of control over the action denoted by the verb root,
however, they can be seen to conform to the same principle that applies in ordinary active
constructions: the NP with most control over the action (i.e. the causer) is expressed as
surface subject.

4. Interestingly, in cases where it is not obvious that any particular NP has greatest control (e.g.
with verbs of sensory experience), there seems to be a high degree of inter-language variation in
assigning NPs to syntactic slots.
5. I am talking here of control over the action denoted by the verb root. It might be objected that the
causer is not an argument of the verb root (rather, it is an argument of an underlying higher
predicate of causation), and that its semantic relationship to the verb root is therefore irrelevant.
However, because of the inherent semantics of causation, the causer has one of the properties
typical of an agent (namely initiation) with respect to the action denoted by the verb root, and may
therefore be claimed to bear a semantic role with respect to that action.
6. Nivkh has a special case for animate causees in indirect causatives.
7. Xrakovskij (1974) and Nedjalkov (1976) seem to regard only the causee as agent; causative
constructions of this type are then said to show agent demotion, as the causee is not expressed as
surface subject. If one takes this view, then the causative-passive correlation is immediately
accounted for, as causatives share the defining feature of passives (though one must then
complicate the definition of passives, in order to exclude causatives!). This analysis, however, fails
to take account of the fact that the causer (i.e. the surface subject) is also an agent.
The causative-passive correlation 55

How does the causative-passive correlation arise?

Since causatives seem to behave like actives in this crucial respect, how is the causative-
passive correlation to be accounted for? I would suggest that the answer lies in the well-
known fact that, in many languages, the verbal affixes and auxiliaries expressing
causation may also express permission (indeed, the connection between causatives and
permissives is so close that Nedjalkov and Sil’nickij (1969) regard permission as a sub-
type of causative meaning).8
We may again use an example from Nivkh to illustrate causative-permissive
ambiguity (indeed, the example in (1) could also potentially have permissive meaning,
but in practice this reading would be unlikely, given the meaning of the verb phrase as a
(2) Nivkh (data from Nedjalkov et al 1969)
o:la-ax vi-gu-d’
father child-CAUSEE go-CAUS-FINITE
Causative: “Father made the child go”
Permissive: “Father let the child go”

Under the permissive reading of (2), the relationships among the NPs with respect to
control over the action are at least not as clear-cut as under the causative reading. Comrie
(1981:164) claims that the ‘permitter’ in such constructions (i.e. the subject) does at least
have the power to prevent the action. It could therefore be argued that the permitter does
have ultimate control; this is particularly obvious in negative contexts:
(3) Nivkh (data from Nedjalkov et al 1969)
ph-o:la-ax phaz-gu-doxqhau-d’
mother REFL-child undress-CAUS-NEG-
“The mother did not let her child undress”

However, permissive constructions are sometimes used when the permitter, rather than
willingly allowing the action, is simply not in a position to prevent it:
(4) Nivkh (data from Nedjalkov et al 1969)
O:la, navat či , kinsku khu-ra,
son now you strong-COMPAR devils kill-
či kinsku
you weak-COMPAR devils REFL-kill-
“Now, son, if you are stronger, you will kill
the devils;
if you are weaker, you will let the devils kill

In such cases, which we shall call ‘unwilling permissives’, it may be argued that the
subject (the ‘permitter’) is not the NP with greatest control over
Subject, voice and ergativity 56

8. It is possible that the close connection between causatives and permissives may originate in
constructions including negation (cf. Nedjalkov 1976:24): not <cause x>= allow <not x>, and
conversely, not <allow x>=cause <not x>.

the action (though he may bear some residual responsibility), and that the normal
principles governing subject selection are therefore violated.9
The Nivkh construction cited in (4) above is, in fact, very close to a typical passive
construction. Indeed, Nedjalkov et al (1969) treat it as such in their translation into
idiomatic Russian, converting it into the corresponding active: “If you are weaker, the
devils will kill you”. This similarity arises not only from the mismatch between controller
NP and subject. In addition, because of the presence of the reflexive, the subject NP is
affected by the action, as in a typical passive (cf. Shibatani’s definition of prototypical
passives (1985:837)).10 Indeed, the subject could be said to indirectly denote a patient, as
it is the antecedent of a reflexive marker occupying the patient slot.11
It therefore appears that constructions expressing ‘unwilling permission’ share one of
the essential properties of passives (the subject is not the NP with greatest control over
the action), and that they may also share a further property typical of passives (the subject
is affected by the action). These two properties are not, of course, completely
independent: it is precisely in cases where the subject is affected, and where, by virtue of
the meaning of the verb, this effect is adverse, that interpretations will arise in which the
subject NP is not in control of the action.12 In other words, it is not a coincidence that the
Nivkh example in (4) both contains a reflexive marker and has an ‘unwilling permissive’
We might, however, be reluctant to classify such constructions as passive while they
still retained an element of permissive meaning, implying some responsibility for the
action on the part of the subject. If in the course of diachronic development these
constructions were to lose this element of meaning, they would have to be regarded as
passive. Moreover,

9. Note that it is possible, even in ordinary active (i.e. non-causative) constructions, to interpret the
agent/subject as not being in control of the action; this would, for example, be the most likely
interpretation of the English sentence I burnt the steak. However, in such cases the agent/subject
always has at least as much control over the action as the other arguments of the verb. In
permissive constructions, by contrast, it is possible to get interpretations where the subject has less
control than the ‘causee’, and where the principle governing subject choice in active constructions
is therefore violated.
10. The importance of causative-reflexive constructions as a bridge between causatives and
passives has been noted by Shibatani (1985:840), Nedjalkov (1976:240ff.), and Haspelmath
11. Note that the subject would also be affected by the action in cases where it was the possessor of
the patient. Such constructions would be more like indirect passives, such as occur in Japanese.
12. In fact, there seems to be a very strong cross-linguistic tendency, covering marked and
unmarked constructions in both ergative and non-ergative languages, for the subject to denote
either the controlling NP or the affected NP (or, in some cases, both):
subject equals subject equals
controller affected
non-ergative unmarked (active) marked (passive)
languages constructions constructions
The causative-passive correlation 57

ergative marked unmarked

languages (antipassive) constructions

as grammatical markers generally tend to become less specialised in meaning over time
(see Bybee 1985:143), this would be a very plausible development. We therefore have a
possible route by which a sub-set of constructions containing causative morphology (i.e.
unwilling permissives) might develop into passives. I would hypothesise that it is
precisely this development which gives rise to synchronic correlations between causative
and passive markers.

The Evenki data

The question now remains, whether the proposed account of the causative-passive
correlation can be applied to the data from Evenki. Evenki verbs may be passivized by
adding the suffix -w-/-p-/-b-/-mu- (the choice between the alternants being phonologically
(5) Evenki (data from Konstantinova 1964)
Active: Xurke:ke:n uluki:-we wa:-ča:-n
boy squirrel-ACC kill-REC PAST-3
“The boy killed the squirrel”
Passive: Uluki: wa:-p-ča:-n xurke:ke:n-du
squirrel kill-PASS-REC PAST-3 SG
“The squirrel was killed by the boy”

There are, however, a number of examples in which the suffix is used to derive forms
which may be regarded as fossilised causatives:
(6) Evenki (data from Konstantinova 1964)
ju: “go out” vs ju:-w- “take
out, lead out”
aru- “come to life, regain vs aru-w- “revive”

The suffix appears to be unproductive in this function in Evenki, though the productive
causative suffix -pka:n consists of this suffix plus the element -ka:n, ultimately derived
from a verb meaning “say” (Sunik 1962:130).
The Evenki data would seem to present a problem for our account. We have claimed
that permissive meaning (specifically, unwilling permission) is a crucial link between
causatives and passives, yet the -w-/-p-/-b-/-mu- suffix cannot have permissive meaning
in Evenki. This missing link can, however, readily be supplied if we take into account
comparative evidence from other Tungusic languages. In Classical Manchu, the cognate
suffix -bu could be used to derive forms with permissive meaning, as well as passives and
(true) causatives (Zaxarov 1879). And in Even, which is closely related to Evenki,
Subject, voice and ergativity 58

13. This same suffix is sometimes used to derive spontaneous forms (that is, semantically
intransitive forms, with no implied agent; cf. Shibatani 1985:839):
mana- “finish vs mana-w- “finish (intr.), come
(tr.)” to an end”
sokor- “hide vs sokori-w- “hide (intr.)”

The use of passive morphology is well-attested in other languages, and need not concern
us here, except to point out that, inasmuch as these forms may be considered anti-
causatives, the function of the suffix is exactly opposite to that illustrated in (6).

the cognate suffix can have either passive or permissive meaning; moreover, in its
permissive function it specifically denotes “unwilling permission”, as a result of
negligence, or inability to prevent the action (Novikova 1968). Furthermore, our claim
that the direction of diachronic development would have been from permissive to passive
is supported by I.V.Nedjalkov (1978:73). He postulates a permissive origin for the
passive suffix in the Tungusic languages as a whole, on the basis of comparative
evidence and the fact that the suffix derives etymologically from a root meaning “give”
(Sunik 1962:130).14 If this is correct, we would have the following sequence of

In Evenki, the meaning which is claimed to be original, and which provided the basis for
the other two developments, has itself been lost.
Finally, it should be pointed out that, since the Evenki passive construction cited in (5)
has a patient subject, we must assume that it originates specially from a permissive-
REFLEXIVE construction—“The squirrel let itself be killed by the boy”—just like the
Nivkh construction in (4). This might seem problematic, in view of the fact that the
Evenki passive, unlike the Nivkh construction, contains no overt reflexive element. It is
significant, however, that I.V.Nedjalkov (1978:73) cites an example from Solon (a
language closely related to both Evenki and Even) in which the cognate suffix -u:- has
the meaning “let something happen to oneself, without being accompanied by any overt
reflexive marker:
(7) Solon (data from I.V.Nedjalkov 1978)
: “He let himself be caught”

The lack of a reflexive marker in the Evenki passive does not, therefore, constitute
evidence against the proposed account of its origin.

14. He is presumably drawing here on the parallel of Russian, in which the verb dat “give” can be
used with a dependent infinitive to form a construction with permissive meaning.
The causative-passive correlation 59


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konstrukcij. Leningrad: Nauka, 5–45.
Zaraov, I. 1979. Grammatika man’ čžurskago jazyka. St. Petersburg.
V.P.Nedjalkov, G.A.Otaina, and A.A.Xolodovič

In A.A.Xolodovič (ed.) (1969) Tipologija kauzativnyx konstrukcij. Morfologičeskij

kauzativ. Pp. 179–99.
1 Introduction
1.1. This article is based on a fixed corpus of verbs, taken from the Russian-Nivkh
dictionary (Savel’eva and Taksami 1965), published Nivkh texts, and linguistic studies of
Nivkh (Krejnovič 1934 and 1937, Panfilov 1960, 1962 and 1965). Some verbs were also
added to the corpus during work with an informant.
1.2. A simplex1 Nivkh verb, Vi, may be said to denote an action, state or event, x. The
majority of such verbs have a [formally related] semantically causative correlate, Vj,
whose meaning may be described as x plus a component of ‘causation’ (i.e. cx).
Approximately 20% of Vi’s (70 intransitives and 15 transitives) have meanings which
cannot be expanded in this way; they may be called ‘uncausable’ verbs. This set includes,
for example, the following intransitive verbs: ti-d’2 ‘thunder’, lukluk-t’2 ‘be hairy’, molo-
d’ ‘be sheer (of a slope)’; and the following transitive verbs: vin-d’ ‘spare, grudge’, (j-
)ali-d’3 ‘not manage, not cope with’, (j-)iv-d’ ‘have’.
In those cases where it is possible to add a component of causation to derive a new
verb, we obtain a pair of non-causative : causative correlates, Vi:Vj.
Let us first examine those Vi:Vj pairs where the non-causative member, Vi, is an
intransitive verb. There are 260 such cases. [Pairs in which the Vi is transitive will be
examined in section 4.1.]
2 The causative correlates of intransitive verbs
2.1 In many languages there is (at most) a single causative verb, Vj, corresponding to
each Vi. In other languages, however, a Vi may have two formally distinct causative
correlates, and . Nivkh belongs to this

1. [V.P.N. et al] In this context, a simplex verb is one that is not formally derived from another
verb; ‘simplex’ verbs may, however, be derived from other parts of speech.
2. [V.P.N. et al] The element -d’/t’ (distributed according to whether the preceding consonant is
voiced or not) is a marker of finiteness.
3. [V.P.N. et al] The element j- is one of three pronominal prefixes, j-, i- and e- (all descending
from if ‘he’) required by certain transitive verbs when their direct object is omitted (the direct
object, when present, usually occupies the position immediately preceding the verb).

latter group of languages, at least as far as intransitive Vi’s (IVi’s) are concerned; the
semantic differences between the two types of causative will be discussed in section 2.7–
2.9. In the majority of cases, however, one of the two possibilities is not realized. 195 of
the intransitive verbs in the corpus have only a single causative correlate (5 of type ,
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 61

190 of type , compared to 80 with two causatives). The formation of type is no

longer productive.4 Causatives of this type will henceforth be called ‘lexical causatives’
2.2. The opposition may be marked in one of three ways: (a) both members of the
opposition may receive equal formal marking; (b) there may be a marker on alone; or
(c) both members may be marked, and may also have an additional marker. These
three types of marking are discussed in turn in the next three sections.5
2.3. Type (a). The roots of IVi and begin with different consonants: IVi has an initial
stop or affricate, while has an initial fricative or liquid. The following alternations are
found: t- vs r-, t’- vs z-, th- vs rš-, č- vs s-, p- vs v-, ph- vs f-, k- vs , and qh- vs χ-. At
least 18 pairs belong to this type, including:
IVi: ‘become ↔ ‘teach’6
accustomed” :
t’o-d’ ‘bend (intr.)’ ↔ zo-d’ ‘bend
tha-d’ ‘fry (intr.)’ ↔ rša-d’ ‘fry (tr.)’
čevčevo-d’ ‘be wet’ ↔ sevčevo-d’
‘get lost’ ↔ ‘lose’
‘tear ↔ ‘tear
(intr.)’ (tr.)’
kez-d’ ‘trickle’ ↔ ‘strain,
qhavu-d’ ‘be warmed’ ↔ χavu-d’ ‘warm’

Strictly speaking, the initial consonant of has two or three alternants

4. [V.P.N. et al] It seems that, in general, if a language has a secondary means of forming
causatives alongside the predominant one, the number of causatives formed by the secondary
process will not exceed 200.
5. [V.P.N. et al] About 10 pairs are related in other ways:
(1) is formed by the addition of the pronominal
prefix j- (cf. n.3) to IVi:
IVi: ‘choke (intr.)’↔ : (j-) ‘block,
stop up’
(2) is formed by the addition of the pronominal
prefix j- or e- and of the suffix -u- to IVi:
IVi: oz-d’ ‘get up’↔ : (j-)oz-u-d’ ‘wake up
mχaq-t’ ‘be short’↔(e-) mχaq-u-d’ ‘shorten”
(3) IVi begins with h- while begins with j- or
IVi: he-d’ ‘boil (intr.)’↔ :je-d’/he-d’ ‘boil
Subject, voice and ergativity 62

(4) The alternation h- vs h-/j- is accompanied by

the addition of the suffix -u-:
IVi: hamam-d’ ‘be soft’↔ : jamam-u-
d’/hamam-u-d’ ‘crumple’
(5) IVi: begins with kh- while begins with
IVi: ‘rest (intr.)’↔
: ‘rest (tr.), give a rest’

6. [J.M.K.] The symbol ↔ signifies that both members of the pair have equal formal marking, so
that neither can be said to be formally derived from the other. Note that, within the approach
adopted here, the formal ‘derivation’ of one form from another is equated with the ADDITION of
material (just as semantic derivation is equated with the addition of semantic components of
meaning, such as ‘causation’).

(depending on the consonant involved), only one of which is a fricative or liquid. A more
accurate representation of the alternations cited above would therefore be: t- vs r-/d-/t-
(IVi: ↔ : ), th- vs rš-/th- (IVi: tha-d’↔ : rša-d’/tha-d’), etc.7
The choice of alternants for the initial consonant of is governed by the final consonant
of the preceding direct object. The fricative or liquid alternant occurs not only after
certain consonants, but also when the direct object is omitted.
2.4. Type (b). is formed by adding the suffix -u- to the root of IVi: there is no initial
consonant alternation. At least 18 pairs belong to this type; they include the following:
IVi: nok-t’ ‘be → nok-u-d’ ‘make
narrow’ : narrow’8
→ ‘spoil’
‘be →
straight’ ‘straighten’

2.5. Type (c). is formed by adding the suffix -u- to the root of IVi; and there is also an
alternation between the initial consonants of IVi and . In other words, type (c) is a
combination of types (a) and (b). There are at least 36 pairs of verbs which are formally
related in this way; a few examples are listed below:
IVi: ‘melt → ‘melt
(intr.)’ : (tr.)’
pol-d’ ‘fall’ → vol-u-d’ ‘knock
phaz-d’ ‘undress → faz-u-d’ ‘undress
(intr.)’ (tr.)’
ketv-d’ ‘stick to → ‘stick to
(intr.)’ (tr.)’
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 63

2.6 The opposition is always marked in the same way. is formed by adding the
suffix -gu- (or -ku- after a voiceless consonant) to the root of IVi:
e.g. IVi: vi-d’ → vi-gu-d’ ‘make go,
‘go’ : send’

Causatives of this type will henceforth be called “morphological causatives” (MC’s).

2.7. If an intransitive verb has causative correlates of both types, then these are
semantically differentiated: the LC has contact-factitive meaning (cf. the (b) examples
below), while the MC may have either distant-factitive or permissive meaning (cf.
respectively the (c) and (d) examples below)9,10

7. [V.P.N. et al] The details of these alternations are given in Krejpovič (1937:65–67) and Panfilov
8. [J.M.K.] The single arrow used here and in type (c) signifies that is formed by adding
material to IVi, and can therefore be said to be formally derived from IVi.
9 and 10. See Appendix on p. 81.
(1) (a) If pold’
IVi: he fall-FIN11
‘He fell’
(b) If phatik volud’
: he his younger brother fall-LC-FIN
‘He knocked down his younger brother’
(c) If phatik ,12 jax polgud’
: he his younger brother nudge-ADV he-
‘By nudging his younger brother, he
caused him to fall’
(d) If phatik vodoxqhaur, jax
: he his younger brother support-NEG-
‘By not supporting his younger brother,
he allowed him to fall’
(2) (a) If phazd’
IVi: he undress-FIN
‘He undressed’
(b) phōla fazud’
: mother her child undress-LC-FIN
‘The mother undressed her child’
(c) phōlaax phazgud’
: mother her child-CAUSEE undress-
‘The mother made her child undress’
Subject, voice and ergativity 64

(d) phōlaax phazgudoxqhaud’

: mother her child-CAUSEE undress-
‘The mother did not allow her child to

2.8. If an intransitive verb has only a single causative correlate, then in theory the
meaning of this causative could either (a) be a combination of all the meanings found
when there are two causative correlates (i.e. contact-factitive or distant-factitive or
permissive); or (b) depend on the form of the causative (i.e. contact-factitive if it is a LC,
distant-factitive or permissive if it is a MC). In general, the second possibility applies in
Nivkh: a LC always has contact-factitive meaning; and a MC usually has distant-factitive
or permissive meaning, though occasionally it may also have contact-factitive meaning.

11. [V.P.N. et al] Almost all the examples are in the ‘past/present’ tense, which is not overtly
12. [V.P.N. et al] The adverbial suffix -r/-t marks an action accompanying that denoted by the main
verb. It agrees with the syntactic subject of the sentence (i.e. with the causer of a causative
sg 1 -t pl 1 -t
2 -r 2 -t
3 -r 3 -t

LC with contact-factitive meaning:

e.g. n’o χasku d’eqaud’
father barn posts be strong-LC-FIN
‘Father strengthened the posts on the barn’

MC with distant-factitive meaning:

e.g. N’i khezt jax lugud’
I that woman turn to-ADV she-CAUSEE
‘Turning to that woman, I asked her to sing’

In this example the causation is oral, but in other cases it may be non-oral.
MC with permissive meaning:
e.g. n’az !
mother-VOC I-CAUSEE bathe-MC-IMPER
‘Mother, let me have a bath!’
Tha jax t’oŋt’oŋguja!
NEG she-CAUSEE turn head-MC-IMPER
‘Don’t let her turn her head!’

This meaning is particularly common if the verb is in the imperative, or if it is negated.

MC with distant-factitive or permissive meaning:
e.g. N’i atikax vigud’
I younger brother-CAUSEE my mother go-
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 65

‘I made/let (my) younger brother go after

MC with contact-factitive or distant-factitive or permissive meaning:

e.g. N’i phōlaax tuin
I my child-CAUSEE here stand-MC-FIN
‘I stood my child here’
or ‘I made/let my child stand here’

2.9 A MC may also express a special, weakened type of permissive meaning, where the
‘causer’ merely waits for an expected action—often one which is beyond his control,
such as a natural phenomenon—usually with a view to performing another action
afterwards. The causative verb usually takes the adverbial suffix -ror/-tot,13 marking an
action preceding that denoted by the main verb:
e.g. la vid’
we wind blow-MC-ADV sail-INS go-FIN
‘Having waited for the wind to blow, we set

13. [J.M.K.] This suffix seems to agree with the syntactic subject of the sentence (like the adverbial
suffix -r/-t):
sg 1 -tot pl 1 -tot
2 -ror 2 -tot
3 -ror 3 -tot

In effect, we are dealing here with a special compound suffix, -gu-ror/-gu-tot (cf. section
MC’s, in contrast to LC’s, are usually accompanied by a phrase indicating the means
of causation:
e.g. If, phlark krasir,
he shirt dye-ADV be black-MC-FIN
‘By dyeing his shirt, he made (it) black’
Umguōla, phatik lerur, jax
girl her younger sister amuse-ADV she-

‘By amusing her younger sister, the girl
made her smile’

The informants often considered sentences without such a phrase to be elliptical.

The type of causation involved (factitive or permissive) may be indicated in various
ways. One such indicator is the communicative structure of the utterance. For example, a
MC is likely to have permissive meaning if it is in the imperative and the causee is
coreferential with the speaker (‘let me’); though if the verb is negated it will usually have
factitive meaning (‘don’t make me’). If the causee is not coreferential with the speaker,
Subject, voice and ergativity 66

then negation will tend to favour permissive meaning (‘don’t let him’ rather than ‘don’t
make him’).
2.10 A MC may be formed from a base which is itself a LC:
e.g. IV1: vaχt’- LC: vaχt’- MC: vaχt’-u-gu-d’
t’ → u-d’ → ‘make/let (s.o.)
‘break ‘break break (’
(intr.) (’
IV1: kuku- LC: MC:
d’ ↔ → ‘make/let (s.o.)
‘be ‘shake shake (s.o./
scattered’ (s.o./’’

It is not, however, possible to form a MC from a base which is already a MC [even if the
latter has contact-factitive meaning].14 Artificial formations such as * , which
we might expect to mean ‘make/let (s.o.) place (’ (from the MC ‘place,
stand (’, in turn from the IVi ‘stand (intr.)’), were unintelligble to the
2.11 LC’s and MC’s derived from them [but not MC’s derived directly from IVi’s]
may be made reflexive by the addition of the prefix ph- (the reflexive pronoun phi minus
its vowel).15 The resultant forms may be

14. [J.M.K.] Comments enclosed in square brackets are my additions to the text.
15. [V.P.N. et al] It is usual for personal pronouns to be prefixed to the verb when functioning as
direct object.

called ‘reflexive lexical causatives’ (RLC’s)16 and ‘reflexive morphological causatives’

(RMC’s) respectively.
e.g. LC: RLC:ph-
→ xuku-d’
‘shake ‘shake
(s.o./’ oneself’
(↔ IVi:
kuku-d’ ‘be
or LC: MC: RMC: ph-xuku-gu-
→ d’
‘shake → ‘make/let
(s.o./’ ‘make/let (s.o.) shake
(s.o.). shake oneself, the
(s.o./’ CAUSER’

2.12 A RLC may in turn serve as the base for a MC:

e.g. RLC: ph-xuku- → MC: ph-xuku-gu-d’
d’ ‘make/let (s.o.)
‘shake shake himself, the
oneself’ CAUSEE’
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 67

The resulting form is in fact ambiguous: it could also be a RMC meaning ‘make/let (s.o.)
shake oneself, the CAUSER’ (cf. the previous section.)17 The meaning of the base verb
and the context generally serve to resolve the ambiguity.
2.13 The derivation of causative verbs from a basic intransitive may be represented by
the following diagram:
IVi → LC → RLC
↓ ↓ ↓

It is possible to divide intransitive verbs into six classes, according to how they
participate in this chain of derivation.
Class I Verbs with just one link of the derivational chain. These are the 70 intransitive
verbs with no causative derivatives (‘uncausable’ verbs; cf. section 1.2): e.g. ‘blow
(of the wind)’, thiv-d’ ‘swell (of a person’),

16. [V.P.N. et al] In some cases, the RLC may be synonymous with the basic IVi from which the
LC is formed, because the IVi has an inherently reflexive meaning:
e.g. IVi: veta-d’ → LC: veta-u-d’ RLC: phfeta-u-
‘dress → d’
(intr.), ‘dress ‘dress
dress (s.o.)’ oneself’
IVi: phaz-d’ → LC: faz-u-d’ RLC: ph-faz-u-
‘undress → d’
(intr.), ‘undress ‘undress
undress (s.o.)’ oneself’

17. [J.M.K.] The two meanings of the form may be represented by different bracketings:

[[[refl-shake(LC)]-MC]-fin] MC from RLC: ‘make/let (s.o.) shake himself’
[[refl-[shake(LC)-MC]]-fin] RMC: ‘make/let (.s.o.) shake oneself’

hoklhokl-d’ ‘be deficient’, hurju-d’ ‘make a noise’, ‘stutter’, roj-d’ ‘be sufficient’,
ršoli-d’ ‘become sober’, tharftharfha-d’ ‘stamp one’s feet’. Many of the verbs in this class
are so-called ‘quantitative’ verbs, which translate into English as predicative adjectives:
molo-d’ ‘be sheer (of a slope)’, khe-d’ ‘be thin’.
Class II Verbs with two links of the chain:18
IVi ‘bathe’
↓ ↓
MC ‘make/let (s.o.) bathe’

There are about 190 IVi’s in this class: e.g. vār-d’ ‘be ashamed’, vi-d’ ‘go’, ‘cook
food’, ‘struggle’, it-t’ ‘speak’, jo-d’ ‘rust’, ‘stand (intr.)’.
Class III Verbs with four links of the chain:
Subject, voice and ergativity 68

IVi → LC
↓ ↓
t’oz-d’ → zoz-u-d’
‘go out (of fire)’ ‘put ( out’
↓ ↓
t’oz-gu-d’ → zoz-u-gu-d’
‘let ( go out’ ‘make (s.o.) put ( out’

About 25 IVi’s belong to this class: e.g. kez-d’ ‘flow’, ‘be long’, qār-d’ ‘be tight’,
qorqor-d’ ‘boil (intr.)’, perqr-d’ ‘be crooked’, p az-d’ ‘undress (intr.)’, ‘tear
(intr.)’, ‘break (intr.)’, phirk-t’ ‘turn (intr.)’.
Class IV Verbs with five links of the chain:
IVi → LC
↓ ↓

18. [J.M.K.] To judge from section 2.1, there are also 5 verbs with the following pattern:
ŋazaqr-d’ → ŋazaqr-
‘be terrified’ u-d’
↓ ↓
ŋazaqr-gu-d’ ŋazaqr- → ph-ŋazaqr-u-gu-
‘accidentally u-gu-d’ d’
terrify (s.o.)’ ‘terrify ‘let (s.o.) terrify
(s.o.)’ oneself, let
oneself be

About 10 IVi’s belong to this class: e.g. ‘lie scattered’, pol-d’ ‘fall’, ‘fall
(from s.o.’s hands)’, por-d’ ‘lie’.
Class V Verbs with six links of the chain:
IVi → LC → RLC
↓ ↓
→ →
‘weigh ‘weigh ‘weigh oneself’
(intr.)’ (’
↓ ↓

‘make (s.o.) ‘make (s.o.)
weigh’ weigh oneself’
(’ (RMC)
OR ‘make (s.o.)
weigh himself’
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 69


There are only three IVi’s in this class.

Class VI Verbs with all seven links of the chain:
IVi → LC → RLC
↓ ↓ ↓
kuku-d’ → → ph-xuku-d’
‘be ‘shake ‘shake oneself’
scattered’ (s.o./’
↓ ↓ ↓
kuku-gu-d’ → ph-xuku-gu-d’
‘let ( ‘make (s.o.) ‘make (s.o.)
be shake shake oneself’
scattered’ (s.o./’ (RMC)
OR ‘make
(s.o.) shake
himself’ (MC3)

About 35 IVi’s belong to this class: e.g. vaχt’-t’ ‘break, burst (intr.)’, ‘become
free’, čiŋr-d’ ‘worry’, če-d’ ‘be dry’.
The absence of particular links in the chain in classes I–V can usually be explained in
terms of pragmatics; the forms are not ruled out by the structure of the language itself.
MC’s such as *the-gu-d’ from the-d’ ‘sing (of birds)’, and * from ‘blow (of
the wind)’ are potentially grammatical, but they would not have a natural interpretation.
The same may be said of reflexives such as *ph-ŋazaqr-u-d’ from ŋazaqr-u-d’ ‘terrify
(s.o.)’, and *ph-folu-d’ from volu-d ‘knock (s.o./ down’. The situations which these
forms would denote are highly improbable.
3 Anticausative verbs
3.1. In the examples which we have looked at so far, the semantic opposition ‘non-
causative’:‘causative’ has been expressed by formal marking on the right-hand member
(or, in a few cases, on both members; cf. section 2.3). However, there are a number of
cases where it is the left-hand member of the opposition which is formally marked, so
that formal derivation is in the opposite direction to semantic derivation.19 The formally
marked non-causative verb may be called an anti-causative (AC).
There are only about 15 anti-causative verbs in Nivkh. They are formed by adding the
prefix ph- (whose more basic function is to form reflexive verbs) to either a LC or a
simplex transitive (TVi) verb with inherently causative meaning.20,21
Anti-causatives derived from LC’s:
e.g. IVi: LC: AC:
‘become 22
accustomed’ ‘teach ‘learn’
IVi: qhav-d’ LC: χav-u- AC: ph-χav-u-
‘be hot’ d’ d’
‘heat ‘get hot’
Subject, voice and ergativity 70

Anti-causatives derived from simplex transitive verbs:

e.g TV1: AC: ph-χoni-d’
‘save (s.o.)’ ‘escape’

19. [J.M.K.] The assumed direction of semantic derivation, ‘non-causative’→ ‘causative’, follows
directly from the claim (cf. section 1.2) that the meaning of a causative verb results from the
addition of a causative component to the meaning of a non-causative verb (i.e. ‘causative’=‘non-
20. [V.P.N. et al] The semantic oppositions expressed in Nivkh by the formal opposition AC : base,
are often expressed in other languages by the opposition base : MC.
E.g. Chukchi ‘escape’ MC: ‘save’
21. [V.P.N. et al] There are also two isolated instances of AC’s formed by the addition of the suffix

(e-) mq-t’/moq-t’ ‘snap (’ AC: moq-r-d’ ‘snap (intr.)’

roq-t’ ‘rip ( open’ AC: toq-r-d’ ‘rip (intr.)’

In the second case there is also an initial-consonant alternation of the type discussed in section 2.3.
22. [J.M.K.] The upper arrow marks the direction of semantic derivation, the lower arrow the
direction of formal derivation.
TV1: AC:
‘hide ‘hide (intr.)’
TVi: ršatu-d’ AC: ph-ršatu-d’
‘teach (s.o.)’ ‘learn’
TVi: vevu-d’ AC: ph-vevu-d’
‘separate ‘separate (intr.), begin to
(’ live separately’

A notable feature of the AC’s listed above is the fact that their subject must be animate.
This restriction holds even if the direct object of the corresponding semantically causative
verb must be inanimate:
If phi vevud’
he his food separate-FIN
‘He separated his food (from the rest)’
vs lmŋ
they marry-ADV AC-separate-FIN-PL
‘Having got married, they began to live

Only two AC’s can take an inanimate subject; they seem to be caiques on Russian forms
in which the ‘reflexive’ suffix -sja functions as an anti-causative marker:
(j-) (Ru. (Ru.
otkryvat’) otkryvat’-sja)
‘open (’ ‘open (intr.)’
(j)-ark-t’ (Ru. ph-ark-t’ (Ru.
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 71

zakryvat’) zakryvat’-sja)
‘close (’ ‘close (intr.)’
e.g. Jeskinivx magazin ark-t’
shop-assistant shop close-FIN
‘The shop-assistant closed the shop’
vs Magazin ph-ark-t’
shop AC-close-FIN
‘The shop closed’

3.2 An AC may serve as the base for a MC:

e.g. MC:
‘learn’ ‘make/let (s.o.) learn’
‘escape’ ‘make/let (s.o.) escape’

If, as in the first example, the AC is itself derived from a LC, then the MC will be
identical in form to a RMC (just as MC’s derived from RLC’s are identical to RMC’s; cf.
section 2.11). Its meaning and derivational history will, however, be different:
e.g. IVi: AC:
LC: ‘teach ‘learn’
‘become (s.o.)’

(s.o.) teach
vs IVi: LC: rəu-d’ MC: rəu-gu-d’
‘become ‘teach ‘make/let
(s.o.)’ accustomed’ (s.o.)
‘make/let (s.o.) teach

Sentences containing the forms in question may be ambiguous, if taken out of context:
e.g. N’i jax phχonigud’
I he- AC-save-MC-FIN (MC from
‘I asked him to escape’ (MC from AC)
or ‘I asked him to save me’ (RMC)

4 The causative correlates of transitive verbs

4.1 Transitive Vi’s have causative correlates of the morphological type only, formed
by adding the suffix -gu-/-ku- to the transitive root:
Subject, voice and ergativity 72

e.g. TVi: zu-d’ → MC: zu-gu-d’

‘wash (’ ‘make/let (s.o.) wash (’

There are only 15 transitive Vi’s with no causative correlate (‘uncausable’ verbs)’.
4.2. MC’s derived from transitive Vi’s usually have distant-factitive or permissive
meaning; both types of meaning may be oral or non-oral. Contact-factitive meaning is
even less common than with MC’s derived from intransitive Vi’s.
The nature of the causation may or may not be made explicit. If it is not, then factitive
meaning is more usual, and the causation is generally oral. However, the (extralinguistic)
characteristics of the action denoted by the verb, and the relationship of the causee to this
action, may sometimes determine the type of causation involved. For example, an action
such as ‘sawing firewood’, or some other kind of work, is unlikely to be performed on the
initiative of the causee. Other things being equal, then, permissive meaning—which
presumes the initiative of the causee—is unlikely. One can therefore assume factitive
meaning, in the absence of explicit indications to the contrary or strong contextual
support for permissive meaning (for example, if the listener knows that the causee is a
child who wanted to saw firewood the previous week, but was not allowed to do so). On
the other hand, an action such as ‘tasting a dish’ would usually be performed on the
initiative of the causee. Permissive meaning can therefore be assumed, unless the
unwillingness of the causee is specifically indicated.
Contact-factitive meaning:
e.g. phōlaax amagud’
father his child- CAUSEE book look at-MC-
‘The father showed his child the book’

Distant-factitive meaning (oral or non-oral):

e.g. n’ax phuvgud’
father I-CAUSEE firewood saw-MC-FIN
‘Father told me to saw some firewood’

Permissive meaning (oral) or (non-oral):

e.g. n’ax mos amlagud’
grandmother I-CAUSEE mos taste-MC-FIN
‘Grandmother let me taste the mos (a dish
made from berries)’

4.3. Both TVi’s and MC’s derived from them [like MC’s derived from LC’s, but unlike
MC’s derived directly from IVi’s] may be reflexivized by means of the prefix ph-. The
resulting verbs may be called ‘reflexive transitive Vi’s’ (TVi’s) and ‘reflexive
morphological causatives’ (RMC’s—cf. section 2.11) respectively.
e.g. TVi:χa- RTVi: ph-χa-d’
d’→ ‘shoot oneself
or TVi:χa- MC: χa-gu- RMC: ph-χa-gu-d’
d’→ d’→ ‘make/let
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 73

‘shoot ‘make/let (s.o.) shoot

(s.o.)’ (s.o.) oneself (the
shoot CAUSER)’

4.4 A RTVi may in turn serve as the base for a MC:

e.g. RTVi: ph- → MC: ph-χa-gu-d’
χa-d’ ‘make/let (s.o.) shoot
‘shoot himself (the CAUSEE)’

The resulting form is in fact ambiguous (cf. section 2.12): it could also be a RMC
meaning “make/let (s.o.) shoot oneself, the CAUSER” (cf. the previous section).23 In
some cases, the meaning of the base verb may help

23. [J.M.K.] As in section 2.12, the two meanings may be represented by different bracketings:


[[[REFL-shoot]-MC]-FIN] MC from RTVi: ‘make/let (s.o.) shoot himself’

[[REFL-[shoot-MC]]-FIN] RMC: ‘make/let (s.o.) shoot oneself’

to resolve the ambiguity. For example, the form ph-sa-gu-d’ from the base sa-d’ ‘beat’ is
far more likely to be a RMC meaning ‘let (s.o.) beat oneself’ than to be a MC derived
from a RTVi and meaning ‘make/let (s.o.) beat himself’. In the following example, on the
other hand, both meanings are possible; the ambiguity could only be resolved by the

n’ax ph-sugud’
father I-CAUSEE REFL-wash-MC-FIN
‘Father told me to wash myself’ (MC from RTVi)
‘Father told me to wash him (father)’ (RMC)

4.5 The derivation of causative verbs from a basic transitive may be represented by the
following diagram:
TVi → RTVi
↓ ↓

TVi’s may be divided into four classes according to the way in which they participate in
this chain of derivation.
Class I TVi’s with no causative derivative (so-called ‘uncausable’ verbs).24
There are 15 such verbs in the corpus; examples were given in section 1.2.
Class II Verbs with none of the reflexive links of the chain:
TVi ep-t’ ‘keep ( secret’
↓ ↓
Subject, voice and ergativity 74

MC ep-ku-d’ ‘make/let (s.o.) keep ( secret’

There are about 140 TVi’s in this class.

Class III TVi’s which cannot be reflexivized directly, but which can form a RMC via
their causative derivative:25


24. [J.M.K.] Presumably, some of these verbs may be able to form a reflexive, so that they have the
two non-causative links of the chain.
25. [J.M.K.] The fact that many TVi’s cannot be reflexivized, while their causative derivatives can,
implies that the reflexive of causative verbs is more widespread that the reflexive of simple
‘kiss (s.o.)’

mot’-ku-d’→ ph-mot’-ku-d’
‘make/let (s.o.) kiss (s.o.)’ ‘let (s.o.) kiss oneself’

About 80 TVi’s belong to this class.

Class IV Verbs with all five links of the derivational chain:
TVi → RTVi
↓ ↓
zu-d’ → ph-su-d’
‘wash (’ ‘wash oneself’
↓ ↓
zu-gu-d’ → ph-su-gu-d’
‘make/let (s.o.) ‘make/let (s.o.)
wash (’ wash oneself’
OR ‘make/let (s.o.)
wash himself’

There are about 50 TVi’s in this class: e.g. za-d’ ‘beat’, fiti-d’ ‘cover (with a blanket)’,
χa-d’ ‘shoot’.
4.6. RMC’s may, in principle, show the same range of causative meanings as non-
reflexive causative forms. Statistically speaking, however, they tend to show permissive
meaning (especially when the base verb denotes something unpleasant [for its object,
which is coreferential with the ‘causer’]). They often denote situations where the
‘causer’, far from allowing the action willingly, is not in a position to prevent it:26
e.g. Ōla, naval či , kinsku khura, či

son now you stronger devils kill-CONJ you

Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 75

devils REFL-kill-MC
‘Now, son, if you are stronger, you will kill
the devils; if you are weaker, the devils will
kill you (lit. you will let the devils kill you)’

26. [J.M.K.] In cases like this, the RMC is almost equivalent to a passive (‘You will let the devils
kill you’ ≈ ‘You will be killed by the devils’). Nivkh does not have a special passive construction.

5 Multiple causation
There are various ways of expressing the causation of a number of different actions
[with the same causer and causee] within a single sentence. If there is no logical ordering
among the actions, all the verbs appear in the ‘conjunctive’ form (-ra), without the
causative suffix, and are followed by the causative form of the pro-verb ha-d’ (cf. English
do).27 The verbal group as a whole follows the noun phrase denoting the causee; any
verbs with a transitive base are immediately preceded by their object:
e.g. phōlaax , ma
mother her daughter-CAUSEE cook food-
CONJ dried fish
khe ovra hagud’
bring-CONJ net mend-CONJ do-MC-FIN
‘The mother asked her daughter to cook
food, bring dried fish, and to mend the net’

If there is some logical ordering among the actions, various constructions are possible:
(a) The verb denoting the first action is placed first, and takes the adverbial suffix -r/-
t;28 the remaining verbs are formulated as described in the preceding paragraph:

phōlaax vir, ,
mother her daughter-CAUSEE go-ADV cook food-CONJ
khe ovra hagud’
net mend-CONJ do-MC-FIN

‘The mother asked her daughter to go and cook food and mend the net’
(b) The verb(s) denoting the earlier action(s) take(s) the suffix -r/-t, while the verb
denoting the last action appears in the finite form and includes the causative suffix.29

N’i phōlaax ozt, vit,

I my daughter-CAUSEE get up-ADV go-ADV cook food-MC-
‘I asked my daughter to get up and go and cook food’

(c) The verb denoting the first action stands last in the sentence, and takes the causative
and finite suffixes. The verb denoting the last action may
Subject, voice and ergativity 76

27. [V.P.N. et al] Only one verb in a sentence (the last) can take the marker of finiteness, -d’/-t’; the
other verbs must either take an adverbial suffix, or be in the conjunctive form (-ra).
28. [V.P.N. et al] Cf. n.12.
29. [V.P.N. et al] Verbs preceding the NP denoting the causee do not form part of the causative

cf. N’i ozt phōlaax vit

I get up-ADV my daughter-CAUSEE go-ADV cook food-MC-FIN ‘Getting up, I
asked my daughter to go and cook food’

either take the causative suffix, plus the future tense suffix ,30 plus the adverbial
suffix -r/-t:

phōlaax vigud’
mother her daughter-CAUSEE cook food-MC-FUT-ADV go-MC-FIN
‘The mother asked her daughter to go and cook food’

or it may take the adverbial suffix alone:

phōlaax vigud’
mother her daughter-CAUSEE cook food-ADV go-MC-FIN
‘The mother asked her daughter to go and cook food’

6 The structure of causative constructions

6.1 A sentence containing a causative verb, whether a LC or a MC, may be called a
causative construction.
The subject of a causative construction (expressing the causer) is, as a rule, animate.31
Causative constructions with an inanimate subject are felt to be ungrammatical.32

* lavgud’
mist we-CAUSEE this village-LOC stay-MC-FIN
‘The mist caused us to stay in this village’

This sentence sounds more natural if a verbal adverb is added; this seems to weaken the
link between subject and causative verb:

dense mist come down-ADV we-CAUSEE that village-LOC
lit. ‘The dense mist, coming down, caused us to stay in that village’

However, the best way of conveying this meaning would be to use a postposition of cause
instead of a causative verb:

Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 77

we mist-because of that village-LOC stay-FIN

‘We stayed in that village because of the mist’

If the causative verb is formed from an intransitive base, then the causee may be either
animate or inanimate. If, on the other hand, the verb has a transitive base, then the causee
must as a rule be animate; an inanimate causee is extremely rare, and must be something
which is

30. [J.M.K.] The future tense suffix is crucial here; the form would have quite another
meaning (cf. section 6.3).
31. [V.P.N. et al] There are just two causative verbs—both LC’s—which can freely take an
inanimate subject such as ‘rain’, čaχ ‘water’: ‘dampen (tr.)’ (cf. -t’ ‘be damp’) and
sevčevo-d ‘wet (tr.)’ (cf. čevčevo-d’ ‘be wet’).
32. [J.M.K.] The English causative verb make seems to be subject to a similar restriction:
? The mist made us stay in the village

activated by a human being:

e.g. Khu nik hagin tha phraguja!
a single bullet NEG REFL-hit-MC-IMPER
‘Do not let a single bullet hit you!’

Both semantically and syntactically speaking, the valency of a causative verb is generally
one higher than that of its base. The following ‘rules’ describe the formation of a
causative from a non-causative construction (apart from the change in the verb):33
(i) Introduce a new subject and place it before all the other constituents of the
(ii) Change the subject34 of the non-causative construction into a syntactic object of
the causative construction—in the causee case (-ax) if it denotes an animate being and the
verb is a MC, otherwise in the absolutive case (-Ø). Even if the conditions for the causee
case are fulfilled, the morph -ax may sometimes be omitted, but it is always retained if
there are already two objects in the absolutive case (i.e., including the subject, a total of
three NP’s in the absolutive case).
(iii) Retain the direct and/or oblique object(s) of the non-causative construction
unchanged. If there is a phrase denoting the means of causation, then the logical object of
the base verb will frequently appear as a dependant of the verbal adverb within this
phrase, rather than of the causative verb itself:
e.g. Nanak, phatik xezr, thu
sister her younger brother turn to-ADV
sledge make-MC-FIN
‘The sister, turning to her younger brother,
asked (him) to make a sledge’

The table below illustrates the rules outlined in the previous paragraph, for base verbs of
different valencies. The (a) sentences are basic non-causative constructions, while the (b)
and (c) sentences contain MC’s and LC’s respectively.
(1) Valency of Vi=Ø
Subject, voice and ergativity 78

become dark-FIN
‘(It) became dark’

33. [V.P.N. et al] It should be remembered that if the causative verb is a LC, its form may depend
on the final consonant of the ‘new’ object (=subject of the base construction). In other words, the
form of the verb itself is only determined after the application of rule (ii).
34. [V.P.N. et al] See section 6.2 for more discussion of cases where the basic non-causative
construction has no subject.
(b) 35

father become dark-MC-FIN

‘Father caused it to become dark’
(c) No LC
(2) Valency of Vi=1 [-anim]
(a) Lep čed’
bread dry out-FIN
‘The bread dried out’
(b) lep čegud’
father bread dry-out-MC-FIN
‘Father let the bread dry out’
(c) lep send’
father bread dry out-LC-FIN
‘Father dried out the bread (to make
(3) Valency of Vi=1 [+anim]
(a) Ōla vid’
child go-FIN
‘The child went’
(b) ōla(ax) vigud’
father child (-CAUSEE) go-MC-FIN
‘Father made/let her child go’
(c) No LC
(4) Valency of Vi=2 (object in absolutive case)36
(a) Ōla lep n’id’
child bread eat-FIN
‘The child ate the bread’
(b) ōla(ax) lep n’igud’
father child(-CAUSEE) bread eat-MC-
‘The father made/let the child eat the
(c) No LC
(5) Valency of Vi=3 (both objects in absolutive
(a) Ōla lep phnanak ximd’
child bread his older sister give-FIN
‘The child gave his older sister the bread’
(b) ōlaax lep phnanak ximgud’
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 79

father child-CAUSEE bread his older

sister give-MC-FIN
‘The father made/let the child give the
bread to his older sister’

6.2 As indicated in the previous section, there is a small group of intransitive causatives,
formed from verbs with zero valency. These verbs may appear in three forms:

35. [V.P.N. et al] For the sake of simplicity, phrases denoting the means of causation have been
omitted from the table; but in this case such a phrase (e.g. phax ajr ‘by closing the window’) would
be obligatory (cf. section 6.2).
36. [V.P.N. et al] In addition to simplex transitive bases, this type also includes LC’s from which
MC’s can be derived.

(1) The finite form (obligatorily accompanied by a phrase denoting the actual or
supposed means of causation):
e.g. , phax ajr,
father window close-ADV become dark-MC-
‘By closing the window, father caused (it) to
become dark’

(2) The adverbal form in -ror/-tot. Here the causer simply waits for an event, with a view
to performing the action denoted by the main verb (cf. section 2.9):
, ,
we become summer-MC-ADV go-home-FIN
‘Having waited for summer to come (lit.
having waited for (it) to become summer),
we went home’

(3) The adverbial form in -r/-t. Here the formally causative verb does not have its usual
meaning; rather, it denotes the cause of the action expressed by the main verb [i.e. the
causative morpheme could be said to have the meaning ‘because’ rather than ‘cause to’]:
father become dark-MC-ADV hurry-FIN
‘Because (it) was getting dark, father hurried’
(literal translation: ‘Making/letting it become
dark, father hurried’)

6.3 The phenomenon observed in the last example of the preceding section is not
restricted to intransitive causatives formed from subject-less verbs. It tends to occur when
the cause is something negative or unpleasant:
e.g. la lavd’
we wind blow-MC-ADV stay-FIN
‘Because the wind was blowing, we had to
(literal translation: ‘Making/letting the wind
Subject, voice and ergativity 80

blow, we had to stay’)

[The syntactic structure of these sentences is as the literal translation suggests. The
pronoun ‘we’ in the above example is the subject of the adverbial form in -gu-; this
is evident from the choice of the allomorph -t for the adverbial suffix, agreeing with a 1st
person plural subject (cf. n.12).] The noun la ‘wind’ is equivalent to a causee; this
becomes evident in examples where the corresponding noun is animate and appears in the
causee case:
e.g. If phutkuax phsagur phimd’
she her husband-CAUSEE REFL-beat-MC-
ADV run-away-FIN
‘Because her husband beat her, she ran
(literal translation: ‘Making/letting her
husband beat her, she ran away’)


Krejnovič, Je.A. 1934 ‘Nivxskij (giljackij) jazyk.’ In Jazyki i pis’mennost’ narodov Severa, 111,
181–222. Moscow-Leningrad.
Krejnovič, Je.A. 1937. Fonetika nivxskago jazyka. Moscow-Leningrad.
Nedjalkov, V.P. and Sil’nickij, G.G. 1969. ‘Tipologjia morfologičeskogo i leksičeskogo
kauzativov.’ In Xolodovič, A.A. (ed.) Tipologija kauzativnyx konstrukcij. Morfologičeskij
kauzativ. Leningrad: Nauka, 20–50.
Panfilov, V.Z. 1960. ‘O zaloge glagola v nivxskom jazyke.’ In Voprosy grammatiki. pp. 113–5.
Panfilov, V.Z. 1962. Grammatika nivxskogo jazyka, I. Moscow-Leningrad.
Panfilov, V.Z. 1965. Grammatika nivxskogo jazyka, II. Moscow-Leningrad.
Savel’eva, V.N. and Taksami, Č.M. 1965. Russko-nivxskij slovar. Moscow.

APPENDIX—Footnotes 9 and 10

9. [J.M.K., based on material given by V.P.N. et al] The table below summarises the formulation of
NP’s in simple causative constructions (cf. section 6.1), to aid the understanding of the Nivkh
examples. The term ‘causee’ refers to the participant who actually performs the action denoted by
the base of the causative verb (i.e. the subject of the corresponding non-causative construction).
LC from IVi: causer causee
absolutive absolutive
case case

(LC’s cannot be formed from transitive bases)

This is just like a normal transitive-verb construction: S-abs O-abs V
The causee behaves just like a normal direct object; e.g., its final
consonant governs an alternating consonant of the verb.
Morphological and lexical causatives in nivkh 81


The cause here does not behave like a direct object, even if it is in the
absolutive case; it has no effect on the initial consonant of the verb.

The absolutive case has no overt marking, and is not specified in the glosses to the examples.
Nivkh is unusual in having a special case, the “causee case” in -ax, for an animate causee in
constructions containing a MC (whether formed from a transitive or an intransitive Vi).
10. [J.M.K.] The different types of causative meaning are distinguished as follows by Nedjalkov
and Sil’nicki (1969):
Factitive The causer is the primary or sole initiator of the action denoted by the base of the verb
[e.g. ‘I made him go’, ‘I told/asked him to go’].
Permissive The primary initiator is the causee; the role of the ‘causer’ is simply to allow (or,
conversely, to prohibit) the action [e.g. ‘I let him go’].
Distant vs contact If there is only an indirect link between the causer and the action denoted by the
base of the verb, the causation is ‘distant’. The causee retains a degree of autonomy [at least in the
way in which he performs the action, e.g. The mother made the child undress (but he did so very
slowly)’; in some cases the causee even has the option of refusing to perform it at all, e.g. ‘The
mother told the child to undress (but he refused)’].
‘Contact causation’ is defined negatively, as the absence of the features distinguishing distant
causation. [It is usually equivalent to the transitivization of an intransitive base; e.g. ‘The mother
undressed the child’.]
Permissive meaning is always of the distant type; factitive meaning may be of either type.
Asli Göksel

There is considerable cross-linguistic variation in the way languages distinguish between

passive, middle and reflexive constructions. It is often the case that a single term covers a
variety of constructions in one language without necessarily corresponding to a similar
set in another language. This is as much due to the difficulty of finding a morphological
or syntactic factor that uniquely distinguishes one construction from the others, as it is to
ascribing to any one of them a cluster of properties by which one could provide a
universal characterisation. In other words, not only are there differences between, say, the
properties of passivisation in various languages, but there is also considerable overlap
between each construction within a single language in terms of sensitivity to syntactic
phenomena and morphological properties. Such factors make it very difficult to use the
terms reflexive, passive and middle as guidelines even at a descriptive level.
Conceptually, these terms cover a variety of constructions which share a common
feature: that one of the arguments of the verb is thought to be pragmatically insignificant
or irrelevant enough not to be overtly expressed. The syntactic analogue of this property
is the suppression of one of the arguments of the verb. It seems to be appropriate, then, to
exploit the shared property as a basis for checking the weight particular factors have in
identifying each construction.
In this paper I will try to shed light on some aspects of passive/middle/ reflexive
constructions in Turkish.* I will argue that there is a logical distinction between reflexives
on the one hand and passives and middles on the other. As for the difference between
passives and middles, I will claim that there is no distinction between these two which
can be stated within the grammar of Turkish, and that what is called passive is no more
than a restricted interpretation of the middle reading.
In the second section I will focus on the interpretation of agentivity and problems
relating to the presence of understood agents.

There are two suffixes in Turkish which occur in sentences that have passive, middle and
reflexive reading: -il and -(i)n.1 The former is taken to be the canonical passive and the
latter the canonical reflexive morpheme. However, the fact that il has -(i)n as one of its
variants and that both

1. These morphemes have the following variants between them: -il, -il, -ul, -ül, -in, -in, -un, ün, -n.
Vowel alterations in these morphemes are due to phonological constraints which are not relevant to
the analysis.
Voice in Turkish 83

converge on a ‘middle reading’ blurs the distinction. Consider the following sentences:
(1) Kapi aç-il-di.
door open- -PAST-3
a. The door was opened.
b. The door opened.
(2) Çocuklar yika-n-di.
children wash- -PAST-3
a. The children were washed.
b. The children washed themselves.
(3) Çok öv-ün-dü-n.
Much praise- -PAST-2
You praised yourself a lot.
(4) Çok öv-ül-dü-n.
Much praise- -PAST-2
You were praised a lot.2

In (1) -il has a passive and a middle reading, but in (4) it only has a passive reading. In
(2) (i)n has a passive and a reflexive reading but in (3) it only has a reflexive reading.
Traditional grammars mention the various ‘meanings’ of these constructions, and a more
recent work (Bainbridge 1987) argues for two -(i)n/-il pairs; that is, -il and -(i)n are each
represented twice in the lexicon: [-il/-(i)n]1 which represents passive and [-il/-(i)n]2 which
represents middle/reflexive (-il being the middle morpheme while -(i)n is the reflexive
morpheme).3 Although this claim captures an interesting insight relating to the
complementarity of middle and reflexive readings, I will argue that it does not lead one to
postulate a separate middle morpheme.
In what follows, I will start with the specification of the lexical properties of the
suffixes mentioned above. One reason for taking this route proceeds from the central
position occupied by the lexicon in the framework I will adopt, Licensing Grammar. The
grammatical theory put forward in Kempson (1990) provides a model which has a dual
system of representation, both systems deriving from lexical properties. One set of
properties, the categorial properties of lexical items, creates surface configurations which
belong to the natural language system. But there is a

2. The abbreviations used in this paper are as follows: 1, 2, 3: first, second and third person subject
agreement; ACC: accusative; AOR: aorist; DAT: dative; INF: infinitival; INT: interrogative; INTR:
intransitive; LOC: locative; NEG: negative; NOM: nominaliser; PASS: passive; PL: plural; POSS:
possessive; REF: reflexive; TR: transitive.
3. Ergin (1989), for example, suggests that -il has a passive ‘meaning’ as well as a ‘broader
meaning’, but points out that this distinction cannot be captured morphologically. Bainbridge
(1987), on the other hand, appears to favour a separate characterisation for a middle morpheme by
stating that there are two [-il/(i)n] pairs. Although she does not explicitly state that the -il of [-il/-
(i)n]2 is the middle morpheme, a description of the remaining morphemes leads one to this

second set of properties which is also lexically specified, and these are logical properties
which are guidelines for forming logical configurations. Logical configurations are
artefacts of the language of thought (in the sense of Fodor 1983), a system distinct from
the syntax of natural language. This is a formal reflex of the informal observation that
Subject, voice and ergativity 84

when we learn a lexical item such as a suffix, we learn to match a specific phonological
form with a set of syntactic properties (like verb or noun) and a set of logical properties
(like the logical type of a noun or a verb). In this model these two sets of properties yield
two configurations which are related but distinct. They are distinct because they are
artefacts of two different systems, the system of natural language, and the system of the
language of thought. They are related because part of forming a logical representation
depends on configurational properties of surface syntax. The mapping between surface
syntax and logical syntax is based on an enrichment process involving principles which
are specific not to natural language, but to processes of interpretation and logical
deduction. Since lexical representations form the core of representations, an analysis of
these properties will be in order.
Going back to examples (1) to (4), the minimal assumption one can make by
considering the pair (3) and (4) is that -il cannot represent reflexivisation, the coreference
of the logical subject and the logical object of a verb. This relation is specifically
expressed by -(i)n. I will therefore start with the properties of -(i)n.
The suffix -(i)n as in (3) combines with a small number of transitive verbs. It can only
combine with those expressing an action that one can inflict on oneself, but not
necessarily with all such verbs. Since the concatenation of -(i)n with a verb is not a
productive process, the verbs that can combine with -(i)n, of which there are very few,
have to be specified for this suffix in the lexicon.4 In line with what has been outlined
above regarding lexical properties, the lexical item -(i)n has, as part of its lexical
representation, specifications relevant to surface syntactic configurations. Let us assume,
as a first approximation, that the properties of -(i)n relevant to the formation of surface
structures are as in (5):
(5) -(i)n: [VTR___]VINTR

This specification states the environment in which -(i)n occurs, the kind of verb it
combines with (transitive verbs), and the outcome of this combination (intransitive
verbs). It thus gives the basis for a surface configuration, such as the one partially
illustrated below. (All nodes irrelevant to the analysis, such as tense, agreement and
aspectual markers will be omitted in this and subsequent representations.)

4. There are verbs that have this suffix which do not have a reflexive meaning like görün which
does not mean ‘to see oneself’, but ‘to appear’, and sevin which does not mean ‘to love oneself’,
but ‘to be happy’. Such verbs have idosyncratic meaning and have to be listed separately.

At this level the complex verb V-(i)n occurs as a single unit.

As mentioned above, lexical specifications that provide surface syntactic
configurations form only part of the information in the lexicon. For each lexical item,
there is also information relating to what it can combine with in order to form a well-
formed logical configuration. Being a configuration of logic and not of surface syntax, it
will require a system of symbols different from syntactic-categorial notation. For the
Voice in Turkish 85

purpose of the preliminary exposition of logical constructs, such information will be

given in standard type-theoretic notation but later this notation will be elaborated to
reflect mechanisms of deduction. What logical information do we need in order to allow
the combination of -(i)n with a verb? In fact, as its combination with the logical type of a
transitive verb provides an intransitive verb, all we need to state is that it is an
intransitiviser. (7a) illustrates this property in type-theoretic notation. The conceptual
representation of -(i)n in (7b) gives instructions as to its interpretation, by means of
specifying the logical object and the logical subject as coreferential.
(7) -(i)n: a. <<e,<e,t>>,<e,t>>
b. λVλx [V(x)(x)]

(7a) will guarantee that -(i)n combines only with a transitive verb (a function of the
logical type <e,<e,t>>). It also guarantees that the result of this combination is an
intransitive verb (a function of the logical type <e,t>). In fact, a closer look at these
logical properties will tell us that if we leave (5) as it is, we will be stating the same thing
twice as a lexical specification of -(i)n, namely, that it is an intranitiviser applied to
transitive verbs. To do away with this redundancy, we will state this information only as
a logical property. That is, for the purposes of surface syntax, we do not need to specify
that -(i)n combines with transitive verbs to form intransitive verbs. The revised form of
(5) is given below:
(8) -(i)n: [V____]v

Notice that (8) allows -(i)n to combine with an intransitive verb as well as a transitive
one. In cases where -(i)n does combine with an intransitive verb, a surface syntactic
configuration will be formed, but it will be ruled out by (7a), which only gives a well-
formed construct if -(i)n attaches to a transitive verb.
As mentioned above, for an utterance to be fully interpreted there must be a logical
configuration that a surface configuration maps onto. The permissible combination of the
logical specification each lexical item has yields logical configurations. The logical
configuration of a complex verb containing -(i)n is similar to its surface representation
except that the verb and -(i)n are separate units:

In order to understand the nature of the mapping between surface configurations and
logical configurations consider a sentence like (3), repeated below:
(10) Sen çok öv-ün-dü-n.
you much praise-REF-PAST-2
You boasted a lot.

For (10) there are two configurations deriving from two different sets of properties
specified in each lexical item. The properties relevant to surface syntax yield (11a),
whereas (11b) is derived partly from logical specifications, partly from clues in the
surface string, and partly from an enrichment process.5 The process of logical form
Subject, voice and ergativity 86

enrichment does not come into play in the analysis of -(i)n, but this notion, crucial to the
structuring of Licensing Grammar, will be elaborated in section II.

The derivation of (11b) from (11a) follows a bottom-up pattern. Leaving aside the
agreement and tense morphemes which are irrelevant to the analysis, the first morpheme
that we come across is -(i)n. To guarantee a well-formed logical configuration, -(i)n has
to combine with a transitive verb. The surface configuration contains such a verb: öv
‘praise’. -(i)n combines with öv and forms the logical type of an intransitive verb övün
‘praise-self, boast’ which is <e,t>. The logical specifications of intransitive verbs require
that they combine with individuals (of logical type e) to give propositions (of logical type
t). Thus, t is formed, which then combines with an adverb to form another

5. Clues in surface strings include, among other things, case markers, concord markers, and
possibly word order. The role of case markers as procedures building logical configurations
formation is mentioned in Göksel (1990a) and elaborated in Göksel (1993). I will not go into these
here, as at this stage further details are not necessary.

proposition. It should be noticed that the branching patterns in (11a) and (11b) are not
isomorphic. This follows from the fact they are constructs of two different systems, that
of natural language and that of logic, and there is no requirement that they should match.
To summarise what we have said so far, -(i)n combines with only a small number of
verbs which have to be specified to combine with it, and has the following properties
apart from its phonological properties:
(12) -(i)n: [V___]v
λVλx [V(x)(x)]

where the first line indicates categorial properties, the second line indicates logical
properties, and the third line indicates that the logical object and the logical subject are to
be coreferential.
We have thus explained the properties of -(i)n that cover the readings in (2b) and (3).
We can now turn to the properties of -(i)n in (2a), and the properties of -il.
The instructions the suffix -il has regarding the construction of surface syntactic
configurations are identical to (8). All that is needed for the purposes of surface syntax is
the information that -il attaches to verbs. Logically, too, one might be tempted to argue
that it is an intransitiviser, as it reduces the argument structure of a verb as in (4).
Voice in Turkish 87

However -il not only combines with transitive verbs but also with intransitive ones.
Therefore it cannot be treated merely as an intransitiviser and warrants a separate
characterisation. I have argued elsewhere (Göksel 1990b) that logically -il is a type that
combines with the logical type of intransitive verbs to give a proposition:
(13) -il: <<e,t>,t>

(13) specifies that -il can only combine with the logical type of an intransitive verb. Such
a characterisation leads one to question how the passive combines with a transitive verb.
Let us take the case of a sentence such as the one in (1) repeated below:
(14) Kapi aç-il-di.
door open- -PAST
The door opened.

The surface representation of (14) is straightforward. Like (11a), it combines with a verb
and is generated as a single unit at surface structure. As for the logical configuration, this
involves the building up of a well-formed construct where the logical properties of the
lexical items are satisfied. Again, starting with the outermost suffix, -il, we know from its
lexical specifications that it has to combine with the logical type of an intransitive verb.
But the sentence does not contain one. What I have so far been referring to as the logical
type of an intransitive verb is, in fact, a type that is saturated in terms of combining with
internal arguments. (14) does not have an intransitive verb, but once the transitive verb
combines with its internal argument such that it cannot take any further internal
arguments, it becomes exactly the type we need, a <e,t>. This, then, is what -il combines
with: the logical type given by the verb that has already combined with its internal
argument. More specifically, <aç> (where <x> is the logical type of x), first combines
with <kapi> yielding <kapi aç>. It is this which combines with the logical type of -il:

It is important to note that (15), like (11), displays a mismatch between surface
configurations and logical configurations, but this time the non-isomorphism not only
involves the branching pattern, but also a category/type mismatch relating to the
combinatorial properties of a lexical item, namely -il. That is, whereas -il is attached to a
V at S-structure, it is attached to the logical type of VP, and not of V, at Logical Form.
As explained above such mismatches are expected in a theory which attributes the two
configurations to different systems. That such mismatches occur in languages is, in fact,
one of the basic assumptions in Licensing Grammar.6
Subject, voice and ergativity 88

Turning now to the suffix -(i)n which provides the interpretation in (2a), one could
either argue that there is a single -(i)n suffix in Turkish whereby the ambiguity in (2)
could be attributed to extra-grammatical factors, or one could argue that the ambiguity is
represented grammatically and there are two -(i)n suffixes in Turkish. That the second
alternative is the correct one can be observed in the interpretaton of (16):
(16) Yika-n-il-di,
wash- -PAST
Self-washing took place.

(16) cannot apply to situations in which those who are washed have been washed by
agents other than themselves. If there were a single -(i)n suffix, (16) would have been
ambiguous between the indicated interpretation, and another one where washing by
others have taken place. The lexicon

6. Mismatches in this model are constrained by mechanisms which are subject to the principle of
relevance, in the sense of Sperber and Wilson (1986).

then has two separate -(i)n suffixes: one with the properties given in (12) which is the
canonical reflexive, the other as a variant of -il. The distribution of -il and its variant -(i)n
is specified phonologically.
The ambiguity of sentences like (2), then, (repeated below as (17)) is captured in their
respective logical representations, although from the point of view of surface syntax they
are identical.
(17) Çocuk yika-n-di.
child wash- n -PAST
a. The child was washed.
b. The child washed herself.

To summarise so far, we have argued that the lexicon provides the following morphemes:
(19) -(i)n1: [V___]V (Reflexive)
λVλx [V(x)(x)]
-(i)n2: [V___]V (Passive)
-il: [V___]V (Passive)

(19) will specify phonological properties including those that provide the distribution of -
(i)n2 and -il. The lexicon will also specify the verbs that can take -(i)n1. In addition, the
passive will have inference rules to be elaborated in section II.
Voice in Turkish 89

The only reading in (1)–(4) unaccounted for up to now is the ‘middle’ reading in (1b).
The question is whether a separate lexical specification for the middle reading is
warranted in Turkish. The issue is further complicated by the need for an exact
understanding of what a middle represents. There are two factors that make it difficult to
answer this. First, there is no single factor that uniquely identifies a middle reading. For
example, genericity, a factor which usually accompanies the middle reading, cannot be
generalised into a universal property of middles, simply because it is not a necessary
factor, as observed in Turkish, among other languages. The second factor that makes the
identification of middles difficult is the lack of a unique morpheme in a diversity of
languages which are reported to have constructions with a middle reading.7 To give a few
examples, in German and French the morpheme used in middle constructions is also used
in reflexive constructions. Greek uses a single morpheme to represent a variety of
processes including passivisation, reflexivisation, reciprocity, and the middle reading.
Each language has specific means to distinguish between such constructions, like the
distribution of adverbials, aspectual markers and person/number markers. Therefore,
whether the middle is a separate construction characterisable within the grammar or
merely the artefact of interpretative processes outside the grammar is a valid question. In
so far as Turkish is concerned, the second alternative seems to be more plausible.
The absence of a unique middle morpheme in Turkish cannot be taken as evidence for
ruling out the presence of a middle construction in Turkish. After all, we have just seen
that a single morpheme in Turkish can have two representations. However, in this case,
not only do we lack a separate morpheme for middles, but we also lack the means of
independently expressing any differences that there might be between middles and other
similar constructions. There is no tense, person, or aspect marker that identifies a
construction as a middle. The only factor that might be mentioned is the absence of
adverbials. Consider the following:
(20) a. Bu kapi ancak bir çilingir tarafmdan aç-il-
this door only a locksmith by open- -AOR
This door can only be opened by a
b. Oda-da otururken birdenbire kapi aç-il-di.
room-DAT while-sitting suddenly door
open- -PAST
While (we were) sitting in the room,
suddenly the door opened.

In the sentences above it is the presence of the agentive by-phrase, and only this, that
produces a different reading. The absence of the by-phrase in (20a) would provide a
reading in which the agent can be anyone, or anything, including the door itself. Do we
therefore want to say that middles are constructions which use the passive morpheme but
preclude agent phrases? Or would one be closer to a working description if one reversed
this statement and claimed that, when an agent phrase is absent, one gets a middle
reading—more precisely, a reading in which the agent is arbitrary and irrelevant? Since
there is no independent means of distinguishing a middle construction as such, the
statement that middles do not allow agent phrases is vacuous. The middle is not specified
in the grammar of Turkish but is merely a descriptive term indicating that the agent is
Subject, voice and ergativity 90

arbitrary. The syntactic correlate of this is that the sentence does not have an adverbial
referring to the agent. That is, the presence of an agent phrase as in (20a) imposes a
restriction on the reading and that is all it does.
In this section I explored the general properties of -il and -(i)n, the

7. See Pitz (1988), Tsimpli (1989) and Zubizarreta (1986) for details. I would also like to
acknowledge the helpful comments of Julia Capritsa relating to Greek.

suffixes that reduce the argument structure of verbs in Turkish. I have argued that -(i)n
has two separate representations, one which indicates that the logical subject and the
logical object of a verb are coreferential, the other a function that maps the logical type of
intransitive verbs onto propositions. The former is the canonical reflexive, and the latter
is the canonical passive. -il also denotes the canonical passive. The terms middle and
passive denote the same grammatical construct and there is nothing in Turkish that
warrants a distinction between them. Therefore one of these terms becomes redundant.
Given that we define the canonical passive as restricting the intepretation of a middle
reading by having an expressed agent, it would be more appropriate to keep the term
middle, since this reflects a broader set of events where the agent is not specified.
However, purely out of convention, which, at least in this case, can lead to convenience, I
will favour the term passive over the term middle.


I will now turn to the representation of agentivity in passive clauses. However one may
wish to represent it, the presence of an agent phrase cannot be considered a side effect of
the process of passivisation. It is generally agreed that an important aspect of
passivisation is ‘the suppression of the external argument of a verb’. It is not surprising,
then, that the re-emergence of the external argument should be of primary significance,
and not merely an epiphenomenon of passivisation.
One way of making sense of the re-emergence of the agent phrase and related
properties of passive sentences is by referring to the notion of the indestructability of
thematic structures. A verb, whichever form it is in, is said to project its thematic
structure onto the syntax. This observation has formal status in current generative
grammar frameworks, such as Government and Binding analyses, where the projection
principle guarantees the preservation of thematic structure at every level of
representation. Although mechanisms of transformationally deriving the passive from its
active counterpart have long been abandoned, projecting lexical structure onto every
syntactic level indicates that it is the similarities between passives and their active
‘counterparts’ that are being exploited. It is no wonder then, that some of these analyses
treat the passive suffix as merely a thematic role absorber, or in some cases an argument
in its own right coindexed with the agent phrase.8
However, similarities relating to thematic structure aside, differences between actives
and passives seem to be an important factor in
Voice in Turkish 91

8. Analyses within the Government and Binding framework are various, although they overlap in
terms of invoking a movement rule for passives. The standard assumption about NP movement
(Chomsky 1981) is elaborated in Jaeggli (1986) where the passive morpheme is taken to ‘absorb’
the external thematic role of the verb. Incorporation strategies analyse the passive morpheme as
either an argument in its own right (Baker 1988; Baker, Johnson and Roberts 1989) or as an
element heading its own maximal projection (Ouhalla 1990, Rivero 1989).

understanding the respective nature of these constructions. The question that emerges is
whether it is possible to make reference to ‘an active clause and its passive counterpart’
without disregarding a number of significant differences, shortly to be mentioned. More
importantly, it may turn out to be the case that certain differences might force us to
reconsider the nature of the similarities, and where in the grammar they should be
captured. The representation of agentivity is closely linked to such questions.
Paradoxically, its presence is based on the similarity between the two types of phrases,
namely the representation of thematic structure, but at the same time it is one of the main
factors that highlights the difference between active and passive sentences.
Before trying to answer these questions, we will first look at the distribution of agent
phrases in Turkish and assign them a preliminary representation. We will then look at the
differences between actives and passives in terms of the semantic properties of
understood agents. It will be shown that the analysis presented in this paper captures
these differences as well as the similarities between actives and passives.

(i) Agent Phrases

The agent phrase in Turkish can be expressed by means of a postposition, tarafindan
‘by’, although its presence is not usually favoured by native speakers:
(21) Kağitlar yöneticiler tarafindan imzala-n-di.
papers executives by sign-PASS-PAST-3
The papers were signed by the executives.

The expression tarafindan which denotes agentivity literally means ‘by the side of, and
occurs in non-passive constructions as well, in which case it means ‘on behalf of’:
(22) Bizimkiler Fatma-ya onun tarafindan bir
düğün hediyesi
my-family -DAT his on-behalf a wedding
My family has bought Fatma a wedding gift
on his behalf.

Since there is no passive suffix in this sentence, the agentive reading of the tarafindan
phrase is not expected. However, the agentive reading of a tarafindan phrase might get
suppressed even when a passive suffix is present:
(23) Fatma-ya onun tarafindan bir düğün
hediyesi al-in-di.
-DAT his on-behalf a wedding gift buy-
a. A wedding gift has been bought for Fatma
Subject, voice and ergativity 92

on his behalf.
b. ??A wedding gift has been bought for
Fatma by him.

Another peculiarity of a tarafindan phrase is that it cannot denote inanimate objects, as

indicated in (24b) and (25b). It is important to note that inanimate agentivity is possible
in active clauses, such as in (24a) and (25a)
(24) a. Makina çamaşirlar-i iyi yika-miş.
machine laundry-ACC well wash-PAST-
The washing machine has washed the
laundry well.
b.? Çamaşirlar makina tarafindan iyi yika-n-
laundry machine by well wash-PASS-
The laundry hasn’t been washed well by
the washing machine.
(25) a. Makas parmağimi acit-ti.
scissors finger-POSS-ACC hurt-PAST-3
The scissors hurt my finger.
b.? Parmağim makas tarafindan acit-il-di.
finger-POSS scissors by hurt-PASS-
My finger was hurt by the scissors.

One could argue that only agents which are animate or human are expressible in passive
clauses. This, in turn, would rule out the presence of an inanimate agent phrase.
However, the (b) examples in the above sentences can be interpreted if the inanimate
agent is personified. Therefore we cannot conclude that the grammar does not generate
them. Instead, it seems to be more appropriate to argue that the grammar does generate
them but they are assigned a specific interpretation, namely the personification of such
agents. A tarafindan phrase, even in isolation carries this interpretation. It must therefore
be the case that tarafindan imposes a human reading on its complement, a specification
to be represented in the lexical entry of tarafindan.
Other properties in the lexical entry of the agent phrase are, of course, the
specifications which give rise to well-formed surface and logical configurations.
Categorially, the agent phrase is an adverbial, and it is generated as an adverbial phrase in
the surface configuration. Whether it is a sister of the VP or of the verb is disputable, but
I will assume here that it occurs in the former position. The exact position of the
adverbial clause does not have an effect on the analysis here and I will not pursue this
point any further. As for the logical type of a tarafindan phrase, I argued in the preceding
sections that the representations of constructions with -il and -(i)n do not include logical
subject positions. The requirement that the passive suffix must combine with the logical
type of an intransitive verb rules out such an option. Therefore the only possibility of a
logical type for the agent phrase is type <t,t>9, this being the suitable type creating an
adjunct position, illustrated in (26b) below, where (26a) is the surface configuration:
Voice in Turkish 93

9. Claiming that agentive phrases can only be represented as adjuncts of the logical type <t,t> is,
strictly speaking, not true of course, since they can also be treated as <<e,t >,<e,t>>. The issue rests
on whether we want to treat them as VP adverbials or as sentential adverbs, a distiction which is
not significant at this stage of the analysis. Suffice it to say that the analysis does not allow them to
be of logical type e, and in this sense the only possibility that remains is for them to be adjunct

The mapping from the surface configuration onto a logical form involves the formation
of well-formed structures derived from the logical requirements of the parts, along the
lines explained above. The passive moves to a position which provides it with a suitable
type to combine with. As for the adverbial, since it is of logical type <t,t>, a type that
maps propositions onto propositions, it forms an adjunct on the already present t.
Assigning the agent phrase of passives a logical adjunct position is the only option the
present analysis allows. That is, the logical configuration derived from the logical
properties of passives cannot accommodate an agent phrase with, say, a logical type such
as e. But is this a drawback? It might be suggested that such an analysis has the
undesirable effect of abandoning the link between active and passive sentences, a move
which might be taken as a denial of the intuition that describes the agent phrase as the
‘logical subject’ of the passive sentence. If we were to assign the agent phrase the logical
type e, on a par with the agent phrases in active clauses, thus enabling it to occur in the
external argument position, we would have maintained the correspondence. However, as
explained above, the only logical possibility for an agent phrase is for it to be of type
<t,t>. Furthermore, the proposed analysis for the agent phrase could raise questions as to
the validity of principles regarding the preservation of the thematic structure of the root
verb. Such considerations might be taken as a sign of the shortcomings of the analysis
presented here. I will argue that, on the contrary, they constitute the strength of the
analysis once it is understood that similarities between actives and passives should not be
reconstructed at every level. What seems to be a shortcoming arises from the core
property of passives, in that they are not structures parallel to actives, where there is
merely a shift of grammatical functions. Passives alter the grammatical function of
arguments, but they can also have properties intrinsic to themselves. As for the
preservation of the thematic structure of verbs, the present analysis leads only to
questions regarding where in the grammar thematic structure is to be stated, and whether
it has to be maintained at every level, rather than to questions about the validity of
structure preservation.10
Subject, voice and ergativity 94

In terms of clarifying the degree of correspondence between active and passive

sentences, focusing on the agent phrase is appropriate, since it highlights some significant
differences between these two constructions. In what follows, we shall look at some of
these differences and their explanation within the proposed analysis.

(ii) Asymmetries
The non-parallelism between actives and passives is most evident in the cases of
constructions with understood agents. Consider the familiar case of sentences such as The
boat was sunk to collect the insurance. It is argued that in this and similar sentences, the
implicit agent phrase of the passive clause controls the subject of the purpose clause, such
that these two are coreferential. That is, this sentence can only mean The boat was sunk
(by x) (for x) to collect the insurance and not The boat was sunk (by x) (for y) to collect
the insurance. This observation has led researchers to analyse the implicit argument as
being syntactically active, in that it can control

10. It is worthwhile to explore how this analysis interacts with so-called long distance A-chains. A-
chains, as explored in Chomsky (1986) are chains formed by the co-indexation of ‘be’ with the
argument and its trace. It is not clear what the implications of A-chains defined in this manner
would be for languages like Turkish that lack an element resembling ‘be’, and that seem to display
no difference between ‘adjectival’ passives and canonical passives, properties of which have been
studied in Levin and Rappaport (1986), among others. Consider, for example, the case of
infmitivial double passives in Turkish which have been subject to analysis by Kornfilt (1988). In
such constructions, there is a ‘raising’ verb in addition to a subordinate passive phrase, but what is
surprising is that the matrix verb also requires passive morphology as in (i) (taken from Kornfilt

(i) Üniversiteler polis tarafindan kuşat-il-mak iste-n-di

universities police by surround-PASS-INF want-PASS-PAST
The universities were wanted to be surrounded by the police.

It should be noticed that there is double occurrence of passivisation here; and the elimination of
either one of these morphemes would result in ungrammatically. Under the characterisation of
passivation proposed in the present work, the fact that both verbs require passive morphology falls
out automatically from the logical properties of the parts:

Limitations on space do not permit to go into such examples in more detail, but at this stage there
appears to be no need to postulate a chain in these constructions.
Voice in Turkish 95

the subject of the purpose clause.11

Let us first turn our attention to claims regarding the coreferentiality of the understood
agent of the passive clause and the subject of the purpose clause. A point which needs to
be considered is that passive sentences with purpose clauses are not necessarily identical
in interpretation to their so-called active counterparts. They might be asymmetrical in two
ways. Consider first an example like (27):
(27) Ankara-nin başkent oluşunu kutlamak için
-GEN capital be-NOM-ACC celebrate for
21 pare top atişi yap-il-di.
21 piece cannon shot make-PASS-PAST
To celebrate Ankara becoming a capital
there was a 21 gun salute.

Here it is clearly the case that the set of those who perform the 21 gun salute is not
identical to the set denoting those who are celebrating the event, but rather, the former is
a subset of the latter. It could be argued that a theory of indexation of coreferentiality
need only form a link between two elements without specifying the denotations of the
sets. However, the significance of this example is that it highlights an asymmetry
between actives and passives since the active sentence does not display this property:
(28) Ankara-nin başkent oluşunu kutlamak için
-GEN capital be-NOM-ACC celebrate-for
21 pare top atişi yap-ti-k.
21 piece cannon shot make-PAST-1PL
To celebrate Ankara becoming a capital we
had a 21 gun salute.

The asymmetry is obvious because (28) cannot have an interpretation in which the
implicit subject in the purpose clause refers to someone other than what the matrix
subject refers to.
A second kind of asymmetry arises when the understood agent of the passive clause
denotes a different set from the subject of the purpose clause. Consider first a case where
these two are identical:
(29) a. Pikniğ-e [eğlenmek iŋin] git-ti-k.
picnic-DAT to-have-fun for go-PAST-
We went on a picnic to have fun.
b. Pikniğ-e [eğlenmek için] gid-il-di.
picnic-DAT to-have-fun for go-PASS-
Was gone on a picnic to have fun.

Now consider a similar pair:

(30) a. Muhammed Ali-yi [şampiyon olmak için]
-ACC champion to-become for beat-
He beat Mohammed Ali to become
Subject, voice and ergativity 96

11. See Brody and Manzini (1988), Roeper (1987) and Safir (1987) for treatments of this
phenomenon within GB.
b. Muhammed Ali [şampiyon olmak için] yen-il-
to be champion for beat-PASS-PAST-3
Mohammed Ali was beaten to become

(30b), even under pragmatic pressure, does not mean ‘Mohammed Ali was beaten by x
for x to become champion’, as one would expect, but rather as ‘Mohammed Ali was
beaten so that he, Mohammed Ali, would become champion’. To reiterate, this is despite
the fact that our knowledge of the world favours an interpretation whereby being beaten
is a condition for not becoming a champion. Such data suggest that in coreference
relations the presence of an overt subject, at least in Turkish, overrides the fact that there
is an implicit argument. An implicit argument is more likely to be syntactically active
when there is no overt subject, such as in (29b). This in turn, suggests that the agent
phrase is retrievable, but not necessaily syntactically present. Therefore we cannot speak
of an implicit argument controlling the subject of a purpose clause in all circumstances.
Having shown the asymmetry between active and passive sentences in terms of their
interpretation when a purpose clause is present, I will now turn to how the type
assignment of the agent phrase interacts with this asymmetry. First of all it should be
obvious that stating the agent phrase as an adjunct in the logical configuration is
advantageous when compared to stating it as a type which has to appear in the position of
the external argument. This is true even in cases where the understood agent and the
subject of the purpose clause might be coreferential. Even if we wanted to commit
ourselves to the claim that understood agents have the power to control, and therefore are
syntactically active, the presence or absence of a logical subject position in the logical
configuration would not affect the situation one way or another. Viewing the issue from a
different angle, the presence of a logical subject position is not the only way of
guaranteeing that the understood agent is represented. If we wanted to account for the
syntactic presence of implicit arguments we could do it in one of two ways: we could
either claim that understood agents appear as empty nodes in the logical subject position
in a logical configuration, or following the analysis proposed above, we could argue that
they are adjuncts. If we adopted the first route, the grammar would be generating logical
configurations with empty nodes in external argument positions. If we adopted the
second route we would have to find a way for accounting for the creation of adjunct
positions to accommodate understood agents. What is the advantage of the second route
over the first, that is, what will we be gaining if we assume that understood agents occur
in adjunct phrases rather than in positions occupied by external arguments?
One advantage is that adjunct phrases are not essential parts of clauses, especially not
of passive clauses in Turkish. Whatever their syntactic behaviour, they are present, from
an interpretive point of view, in order to restrict the interpretation of a clause. Time and
manner adverbials are canonical examples of such a restriction on interpretation. It will
be recalled that I mentioned the notion of enrichment as a core concept of Licensing
Grammar. This concept is operational in the formation of Logical Form, in that it is part
of a process which creates logical configurations. In sentences where implicit arguments
are said to be syntactically active, the enrichment of logical configurations actually
Voice in Turkish 97

means that an adjunct site is created for an implicit argument. This does not imply that all
logical configurations freely allow the addition of a node. They are simply flexible
enough to allow whatever is already present in the logical make up of one of its parts.
Since verbs have agents there is no reason why these should not appear in adjunct
position in passive configurations and control from that position. This is different from
saying that they must appear. This follows from the assumption that logical
representations can be richer than their corresponding syntactic counterparts. Therefore,
if the so-called logical subject appears with arbitrary reference as an adjunct node, there
is nothing to stop it from being coreferential with the subject of the purpose clause. The
retrievability of an agent phrase is consistent with it being an adjunct. That is, it is not
retrieved unless it is necessary. The retrieval may be necessary when there is a purpose
clause present, because otherwise the purpose clause might not be interpreted. This
accounts for the mismatch between the denotation of the sets: the interpretation of the
agent phrase is not fixed, because the agent phrase is not syntactically present. The non-
presence of it in syntax can best be represented in an adjunct clause. Under this account,
control is derivable as an inference.
I will now turn to some further asymmetries between the agent phrases of passive and
active sentences. This time the difference will be accounted for in terms of properties
relating to inference rules, a notion I will explain below.

(iii) +/-human factor in understood agents

It is a language specific property of Turkish that agents of intransitive passives are
required to have volition. In the sentences in (31) the action ‘fall’ is predicated of humans
only, and not of objects which cannot partake in volitional activity:
(31) a. Düş-ül-dü.
is fallen
b. Su-da islan-il-ir.
water-LOC wet-PASS-AOR
In water, (one) gets wet.
c. Böyle havalar-da öl-ün-ür mü?
such weather-LOC die-PASS-AOR INT
In such weather, does dying occur?

(31a) means falling took place, only in the cases where the agent of the action is human.
If someone pointed at some books on the floor which were previously on the table and
uttered (31a), the only interpretation this utterance would invoke would be the one in
which ‘books’ is personified. Similarly, in (31b&c) the objects which are taken to be the
agents of the predicates are either human or thought to have human qualities. I will
henceforth refer to this quality as the +/-human factor.12
There are two problems relating to the representation of the +/−human factor. The first
problem is that such a factor only comes up in passive clauses and not in the
corresponding active clauses. In other words it is natural to talk about non-volitional
objects that fall, or that get wet and of plants that die, and the active counterparts of the
sentences in (31) with non-human agents are acceptable. The question can be put as
follows: What is it about the presence of the passive suffix that leads one to an
interpretation in which the agent is taken to be +human?
Subject, voice and ergativity 98

The second problem is that the +/−human factor cannot solely be attributed to the
presence of the passive suffix since it does not occur irrespective of the transitivity of the
root verb. Although it is the case that agent tarafindan phrases in Turkish must have a
+human complement, the understood agent can be -human when the agent phrase is
missing. This distinction between passives of transitives and passives of intransitives can
be seen clearly by comparing the interpretation of the understood agents in (32) and (33):
(32) Cam kir-il-di.
glass break-PASS-PAST
The glass was broken.
(33) Tarlalar-da koş-ul-ur.
fields-LOC run-PASS-AOR
In fields, running takes place.

In (32) ‘the glass was broken by a stone’ is one of the possible interpretations, but in (33)
‘horses run in fields’ is only available with the proviso that ‘horses’ is attributed a human
The points made above suggest that the presence of an intransitive root verb or the
presence of the passive suffix alone do not guarantee the +human factor. Rather, this
factor follows from the coexistence of intransitivity and passivisation.
Where and how is the +human factor to be represented? The representation of this
factor may appear to be a problem in the analysis of passivisation I have proposed above,
as this analysis does not automatically seem to provide room for the understood agent of
a verb in the logical configuration. This minimises the possibility of making reference to
the logical configuration with the hope that a property can be

12. The pertinence of human agency has been observed before (Biktimir 1986, Knecht 1985,
Özkaragöz 1986). Some speakers have a +/−animate distinction rather than a +/− human
distinction. This does not have any effect on the analysis other than the replacement of +/−animate
factor with the +/−human factor.

attributed to one of the constituents.

However, in the present analysis, an agent phrase may only be represented as an
adjunct. It can be represented as an adjunct either when it is overtly present or when it has
to be retrieved for interpretation. It should be noted that by retrieving an agent phrase we
will merely be bringing in what is already present in the argument structure of the verb.
But in addition, we will be making use of inference rules which operate on the logical
forms to provide a full interpretation. We will in fact be enriching logical configurations
in order to assign them a specific interpretation. Inference rules do not exist at a separate
level as such, but should rather be thought of as a means of specifying the components of
a logical configuration after concatenation. After all there is no device by which one can
specify an item in a logical configuration other than by simply spelling out the logical
type. In other words, the logical type of a lexical item provides only the minimal
information necessary to enable it to appear in a well-formed formula. However,
inference rules, being part of the lexical specification of morphemes, can make reference
to the internal structure of a configuration. As a first approximation, let us assume that
the minimal form of the inference rule associated with the passive suffix is:
Voice in Turkish 99


where Q is a predicate variable ranging over intransitive verbs. This rule has no
specifications regarding the agent of the verb as it is, since the variable x is free to select
any value. In order to account for the fact that passives of intransitives have only +human
(understood) agents, x requires the resriction +human:

A rule of this kind specifies that the passive suffix has an inference rule associated with it
that forces the agent of an intransitive passive to be interpreted as +human. But is it
restricted enough? In order to see if it is, let us sidetrack and repeat what the passive
suffix is and how it is generated in a logical configuration. The passive suffix is of logical
type <<e,t>,t>. It can only combine logically with the type of an intransitive verb. The
logical type of an intransitive verb is not uniquely defined; it can refer to either a lexically
intransitive verb, or to a transitive verb which has logically combined with its direct
object complement. The second type is a de facto intransitive. These de facto intransitve
types impose no restriction on their agents, which can be +/−human. It is the non-
compositional intransitive verbs that we want (35) to refer to, and not the de facto ones.
One of the options which can resolve this problem is to write this into the inference rule
itself, that is, to specify in the inference rule that Q must be non-combinatorially derived.
This further specification can be included in the inference rule in (35), yielding (36):

We have still not specified where such an inference rule is to be represented, other than
stating that inference rules apply after logical combinations take place. Although we have
maintained that inference rules form part of the lexical properties just as logical
specifications do, the former have to be operations on logical configurations. In order to
understand how this system works, let us now turn to the final part of the model we are
assuming here.
Suppose we take logical types to be deductive rules along lines suggested in Gabbay
and Kempson (1991), in much the same way as inference rules are taken to be. This
would mean that what we have been referring to as an <e,<e,t>> (the logical type of a
transitive verb) is e→(e→t), and an intransitive verb <e,t> is e→t. This is not merely a
notational alteration but an indication that utterance interpretation uniformly involves
modus ponens, not only in the application of inference rules, but also in terms of
combining logical types to characterise the truth theoretical content of an utterance.
Stating logical types as assumptions involved in modus ponens formalises the notion of
the fulfilment of logical properties. To be more specific, a string like
(37) Düş-ül-dü.
It was fallen.

can be formalised as follows:13

Subject, voice and ergativity 100

(38) (1) düş’ : e→t assumption

(2) ül’ : (e→t)→t assumption
(3) dü’ : t→t assumption
(4) ül’(düş’) :t MP 2,1
(5) dü’(ül’(düş’)) :t MP 3,4

As suggested by Gabbay and Kempson, (38) will be taken to be a characterisation of the

preliminary step of a deductive process. The end result of this process, (38/5), will then
be subject to the inference rule stated in (36).14
Two questions might arise at this stage. One relates to how certain lexical information
gets delayed in the assignment of an interpretation to a string, and why (36) does not
intervene in the derivation in (38). In other words, by making the inference rule apply to
the output of (38), we are

13. Labels are annotations of well-formed formulae. (’) denotes that the item with this notation is a
label. See Gabbay (1991).
14. This is, in fact, a simplication of the system. Labelled Deductive Systems involves the
manipulation of the various parts of utterances in a formalism expressed in terms of separate logics,
each definable within a separate box, where the output of Ln is the input to Ln+i. In this case (38) is
in the logic of Lo (that is, the inner box) and the inference rule is in the logic of Li.

implying that there might be an ordering of lexical information. However, this

observation seems to be unproblematic because the logic in (38) is not of the kind that
can recognise inference rules, such as those given in the format of (36); it only recognises
logical types. Hence the delay in certain kinds of lexical information. The second
question is how much of the information in (38) is accessible at the stage where the
inference rule is manipulated. We suggested above that only the output of (38), namely
(38/5) is manipulated by the inference rule. But if this is the case, the phrase which refers
to the non-combinatorial nature of the predicate ought to become vacuous because this is
stated in (38/1), namely before (38/5). However, manipulating the output of a derivation
does not mean that previous information becomes inaccessible. An inference rule applies
(in this case) to a derivation, but this does not mean that information relating to the
transitivity of the predicate düş ‘fall’ is lost. Thus, such a mechanism guarantees that the
+/−human factor applies only to ‘true’ intransitive verbs, and not to de facto ones.


I have argued in this paper that reflexivisation is a lexical process involving a limited
number of transitive verbs in Turkish. I have also suggested that passive and middle
constructions in Turkish are not syntactically distinct, and do not warrant separate
characterisations in the grammar. The occurrence of the agent phrase merely restricts the
interpretation in constructions which otherwise might have generic interpretations. This
indicates that the generalisation underlying genericity effects in middles might not, after
all, be solely attributable to tense/aspect, but to other factors in various languages. In the
case of Turkish the presence or absence of agentive phrases is probably such a factor.
Voice in Turkish 101

I have also claimed that the logical characterisation of middle/passive constructions

lacks a logical subject position, and agents are represented as adjuncts in Logical Form.
This aspect of the analysis was shown to be crucial in terms of capturing the asymmetry
between active and middle/ passive clauses. It is one of the central hypotheses of this
paper that thematic structure need not be represented at every conceivable level since its
representation in the lexicon is sufficient both to guarantee the similarities between active
and middle/passive clauses on the one hand, and to account for the differences between
them on the other. Further restrictions on the passives formed by intransitive verbs are
captured by inference rules which manipulate the output of logical concatenations.

* This is an unmodified version of a paper I wrote in 1991. I would like to thank Ruth Kempson for
helpful comments during the preparation of this paper. All errors are mine.


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G.D.Wijayawardhana, Daya Wickramasinghe and Theodora Bynon

0. Sinhala (Sinhalese) is spoken in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), where nearly 70 per cent
of the population use it as their mother tongue. It is a member of the Indo-Aryan family
of languages, whose earliest attested representative is (Vedic) Sanskrit, and is thus related
to such modern languages of northern India as Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Panjabi and
Marathi. It has an unbroken documented history which dates back to the third century
B.C. and, being separated from the Indian sub-continent at a very early period, has
developed in its own way.
The current linguistic situation is characterised by diglossia. The literary variety of
Sinhala is used in all forms of writing, is formally taught at school and maintained as a
distinct code alongside the spoken language. It has a complex morphological structure,
the nominal and verbal inflections being comparable to those of Sanskrit; thus the noun
retains a number of case suffixes and postpositions which have been lost from the spoken
variety, the verb inflects for person and number, and its active and passive forms continue
inherited patterns. The spoken language on the other hand is characterised by a more
simplified morphological structure, the nominal declension having lost some of the case
forms and the conjugation of the verb having lost the categories of person and number
and with them agreement with the subject. These and other changes form, in fact, part of
a more general restructuring that has affected the syntax of the verb. In what follows we
shall concern ourselves exclusively with the spoken language and shall not make any
comparisons with the literary variety.
1. It is the aim of this study to explore, and to locate within the grammar, one
particular aspect of the conceptualisation of human experience which is formally encoded
in the structure of the clause.1 The basic contention of our analysis is that the Sinhala
structures here under review fall into the domain of grammatical voice. The morphology
of the verb, combined with case-marking, differentiates two distinct clause structures.
The morphologically unmarked type is an active clause in which the syntactic

1. Acknowledgements. This study has quite a long history. It was originally inspired by
conversations with Dr. Asoka Premaratne while he was in London in 1986–7 and it was he who
provided a number of the diagnostic sentence pairs. Informant sessions with Dr. Wilson Rajapaksa
and Mrs. Indra Ranasinghe were funded by the Research Committee of SOAS, and the background
work was supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust for a project entitled ‘Structural
comparison of languages: typology and universals’. We gratefully acknowledge the support given
by these sources.

subject is a prototypical agent. The second is a marked structure and the range of
meanings conveyed by it includes those discussed by Shibatani (1985) in a cross-
Subject, voice and ergativity 104

linguistic study of the semantic correlates of passive morphology. It is for this reason that
we have chosen to speak of passive-related constructions in the present paper.
In keeping with tradition, Shibatani approaches grammatical voice from the
perspective of the unmarked vs. marked mapping between the basic syntactic functions of
subject and object and the basic semantic roles of agent and patient. In the active clause
the agent can not as a rule be deleted since it occupies the most prominent syntactic slot,
that of subject. In the passive clause on the other hand, the agent is either not encoded at
all or is demoted to the role of an adjunct and is thus deletable. Passive voice may
therefore be seen as a means of removing the agent altogether, or removing it from a
position of prominence, both syntactically and pragmatically. The prototypical passive is
therefore agentless. More importantly, however, Shibatani shows that cross-linguistically
passive morphology is associated with a range of readings beyond the passive prototype,
including ‘potential’ (something is not done, meaning that it should not or cannot be
done) or ‘spontaneous’ (French le ver s’est cassé ‘the glass broke [by itself]’). Colloquial
Sinhala, as we shall see, in fact employs passive morphology far more widely and more
systematically than any of the languages in Shibatani’s discussion. It is employed for
demoting an agent not only syntactically and pragmatically but also semantically by
dissociating agenthood from full control as when, in the speaker’s view, a human (or
animate) being sets off some event incidentally, as a so-called ‘accidental agent’, or when
it is simultaneously the actor and the affected party.
The following dialogue (taken from Coates 1972:471) gives a flavour of the pragmatic
relevance of active and passive morphology with one particular class of verb (The
respective verb forms have been marked A(=active) and P(=passive) and glosses have
been added):
Noona: , mokak ee binde?
Banda, what Q that break-NON-FIN-
Madam: ‘Banda, what was it that you broke?’
Banda: binde nææ, noona.
break-NON-FIN-PAST-A NEG Madam
Banda: ‘I didn’t break anything, Madam.’
N: ehenan mokak ee æhune?
If so what Q that noise-INDEF hear-
‘Then what was that noise I heard?’
B: viiduruak , noona.
glass-INDEF break-PAST-P Madam
‘A glass got broken, Madam.’
N: binde?
how Q it break-NON-FIN-PAST-A
‘How did you break it?’
B: binde nææ, noona;
it break-PAST-P
‘I did not break it, Madam, it got broken.’
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 105

N: ?
how Q without-reason break-NON-FIN-
you it drop-INF-A MOD
‘How can it break for no reason? You must
have dropped it.’
B: atææriye nææ, noona, atææuna.
Madam it drop-PAST-P
‘I did not drop it, Madam; it just dropped.’
N: ov, ,

Oh, Banda, you anytime anything break-

nææ eeva ibee .
NEG It all by-itself break-PRES-P
‘Yes, Banda. You never break anything.
Things all just break by themselves.’

In the case of verbs like ‘break’, comparable distinctions are also found in other
languages. In German, for instance, the active clause

Er hat den Krug zerbrochen

he has the jug broken
‘He broke the jug’

contrasts with a stative passive with the ‘affected agent’ in the dative:

Ihm ist der Krug zerbrochen

him is the jug broken
‘He (accidentally) broke the jug’

In Sinhala, however, the distinction runs throughout the entire verbal system, so that a
speaker is obliged to encode an event as either controlled or not. Compare:
(1a) kooppe binda
child-NOM cup break-PAST-A
‘The child (deliberately) broke the cup’
(1b) kooppe
child-INS cup break-PAST-P
‘The child (accidentally) broke the cup’
child-NOM weep-PAST-A
‘The child wept’ (e.g. in order to attract
sympathy or attention)
child-DAT weep-PAST-P
‘The child wept (involuntarily)’
Subject, voice and ergativity 106

(3a) bat kææva

child-NOM rice eat-PAST-A
‘The child ate rice’
(3b) vaha kævuna
child-DAT poison eat-PAST-P
‘The child (accidentally) ate something
I-NOM meal eat-GERUND water drink-
‘I drank water with my meal’
river fall-GERUND I-DAT water drink-
‘When I fell into the river I (accidentally)
swallowed water’
(5a) kavi kivva
I-NOM poem say-PAST-A
‘I recited poetry’
(5b) kavi
I-DAT poem say-(CAUS)-PRES-P
‘I let poems come to my lips’ (now, or on
particular occasions)
(5c) boru kivva;

I-NOM always lies say-PAST-A but

sometimes (I-DAT) truth say-PAST-P

‘I have always told lies (deliberately) but
sometimes I (incidentally) spoke the
child story hear-PRES-A
‘The child is listening to the story’
child-DAT story hear-PRES-P
‘The child hears the story’

As may be seen from these examples, the structural differences between the
corresponding (a) and (b) clauses relate to both the morphology of the verb (active versus
passive) and the case-marking of the agent NP (nominative versus dative or
instrumental). In the case of an action verb, therefore, the Sinhala speaker will select
passive instead of active morphology according to the contextual circumstances. The
mechanism employed for this is demotion of the agent from the unmarked nominative to
either instrumental or dative case. Demotion signals impaired control on the part of the
agent and often implies incidental, non-deliberate involvement and the fact that the agent,
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 107

although performing the action, is at the same time at the receiving end of it and hence
more or less affected by it.
Both structurally and semantically these marked constructions of action verbs
resemble the normal syntactic encoding of verbs which encode physical or mental states
or events not consciously initiated by, and hence not under the control, of the (invariably
animate) experiencer, as in
‘I am in pain’
‘I am (in the act of) falling’

The verbs in (7–8) differ from those in (1–6) in being inherently mediopassive (middle
voice). They do not have a corresponding active because their subject, far from being the
initiator is, to a greater or lesser extent, affected by the verbal event.
The marked-voice construction of Sinhala has been given various labels in the
literature, such as ‘inactive’, ‘involitive’, ‘passive’, ‘impersonal’ (Reynolds 1980:102 and
passim; Gair 1970:72ff.), each more or less appropriate according to the particular verb
and specific pragmatic context involved. Our characterisation of this construction in
terms of affectedness and control is less specific and assumes that its linguistic structure
underdetermines the meaning of an utterance and that the detailed interpretation is
supplied at the pragmatic level (Wilson and Sperber 1988:141).
We claim that a unitary interpretation of passive morphology is possible in Sinhala if,
as Gair has advocated, both the structure of the clause and the lexical properties of the
verb are taken into consideration. According to our analysis, the differentiating principle
which governs the two types of encoding is the notion of control: in an A-clause the
syntactic subject is a prototypical agent in full control of the action whereas in the
prototypical (agentless) passive subject status falls on the patient as the prototypical
affected party. The experiencer role associated with inherently middle voice verbs and
the two kinds of demoted agent in the case of derived P-clauses represent positions
between those two polar types, the case-markers in each instance indicating the semantic
interpretation. Control is to be understood as a complex concept which includes the
features ability, volition, authority, initiative, competence and responsibility. It is an
inherent property of animates (normally humans) as opposed to inanimates, and of agent
role. This is why, with a few notable exceptions, inanimate and ‘inactive’ subjects
automatically select passive morphology in Sinhala.
In the following section we outline those aspects of the grammatical structure of
Sinhala which are immediately relevant to the present discussion.
2. Inanimate nouns and pronouns inflect for four cases (nominative, dative, genitive-
locative and ablative-instrumental); animates in addition have an accusative case distinct
from the nominative and they regularly differentiate locative from genitive on the one
hand and instrumental from ablative on the other by means of postpositions. The
distinction between animates and inanimates is fundamental in the language and is made
on the basis of both the morphology of the nominals themselves and of the determiners
and auxiliaries which they select (Gair 1970:29). The case-markers are to some degree
Subject, voice and ergativity 108

detachable, either following the morphologically unmarked ‘nominative’ form directly or

an intervening plural or definite marker. The following paradigms illustrate the system:
‘Child’ ‘I’ ‘Book’
NOM laməya mamə/maa potə
ACC laməyavə maavə potə
GEN/LOC laməyage mage potee
ABL laməyagen magen poten
INS laməya-atin maa-atin poten

The nominative (unglossed in the following examples) is morphologically unmarked and

encodes the prototypical agent whose referent is inherently in control of the verbal action
without being affected by it.
The dative is the normal encoding of the recipient/benefactive role with action verbs
and of the experiencer role with stative verbs; it also encodes, in the case of specific verb
classes, the demoted agent simultaneously carrying out a verbal action non-volitionally
and being affected by it.
The instrumental is not differentiated from the ablative with inanimates; with
animates it is marked by the postposition atin (preceded by the unmarked form or the
genitive); it is in complementary distribution with the instrumental in encoding the non-
affected demoted agent.
In marked-voice constructions, therefore, dative and instrumental have the secondary
function of encoding the demoted agent.
The accusative case encodes the animate patient (its inanimate counterpart lacking an
overt case-marker). It does not commute with the nominative (nor with any other case) in
the way the above three cases do, although it does share with them the ability to become
the syntactic subject.
The genitive, ablative and locative are marginal to the present discussion and will not
be dealt with systematically.
The regular verbs of spoken Sinhala fall into three conjugations, characterised
respectively in the present tense by the stem vowels -a, -i-and -e. A-forms are in
conjugations I and II, P-forms in conjugation III. A sample verb list is given in the
PRES duvənəva ‘run’
PAST divva
PRES arinəva ærenəva
PAST æriya æruna
PRES hadənəva hædenəva
PAST hæduva hæduna
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 109

A minority of verbs exist in only one of the three conjugations, whereas the majority exist
in two, either I and III or II and III. The conjugation III stems are morphologically more
complex than those of conjugations I and II, since they are characterised not only by their
stem vowel but in addition by fronting of the root vowel (if this is a back vowel). This
morphological fact is important, since it correlates with the other features of structure
which identify the P-clauses containing conjugation III forms as being marked by
comparison with the A-clauses containing conjugation I/II forms. Morphological
causatives are in class I.
In view of the facts outlined so far, the syntax of the verb in colloquial Sinhala is best
captured if we assume that there is:
(i) a two-fold classification of verbs into action verbs, prototypically having active
morphology, and verbs of state, prototypically having passive morphology, a majority of
action verbs having both forms;
(ii) a two-fold classification of nouns into animate (normally human) and inanimate, a
division which is very basic both formally and semantically and is observable in the
morphology of both the noun and pronoun (plural formation, case-marking) and
indirectly in the interaction of nominals with grammatical voice;
(iii) a set of basic semantic roles to which the arguments of the individual verb are
allocated; these semantic roles are directly correlated with the case system of the noun;
(iv) a set of formal devices which mark the structure of the clause, namely word order,
case marking and verb morphology.
The basic word order is SOV, with verb and object forming a close-knit unit not
normally broken by intervening elements. The verb does not show agreement with any
NP and the notion ‘subject’ is controversial (as in other Indo-Aryan languages: Verma
1976, Masica 1991:339). The subject is often not overtly present and may be understood
from the context. It is sensitive to such semantic features as animacy and semantic role.
By way of a rule of thumb we may say that if there is one animate argument in the clause,
whatever its semantic role, this becomes the syntactic subject, and when there are more
than one animate arguments it is the hierarchy of semantic roles which decides which is
the subject. We have thus adopted a position similar to that taken by Fillmore
(1968:33ff.) and Kachru et al. (1976). This essentially semantically-based analysis is
corroborated by formal tests for subjecthood, such as conjunction reduction and control
of raising, which equally point to the ‘most animate’ argument of the verb as the first
candidate for subjecthood. We shall return to this issue in section 4.
The nominal and verbal morphology combine with word order to create a limited
range of clause structures. Following Gair (1970) we distinguish two main types, A-
clauses and P-clauses, but unlike him we treat the clause-initial argument of the verb as
the syntactic subject.
The A-clause is agent-centered. Its syntactic subject is in the morphologically
unmarked nominative case and the referent encoded in this way is perceived as being
naturally and unquestionably in control of the action or event depicted in the verb, which
has active morphology (conjugations I or II).
The P-clause is characterised by having either an inanimate subject or an animate
subject in a morphologically marked case, and by passive morphology.
Every verb can in principle form a causative by adding the causative suffix, which
increases the argument structure of the basic verb by one. In the resultant C-clause the
Subject, voice and ergativity 110

causee is marked by the postpositions or lavva and the verb invariably has active
morphology (conjugation I).
The relevant types of clause structure are summed up in these diagrams:
clause: [+animate] A
clause: NP-DAT P
clause: lavva) ACC) CAUS-
[+animate] A

3. The following survey concentrates on the syntax and semantics of the different classes
of verb we have set up, paying particular attention to the availability of A- and P-clauses
and to their respective meanings.
Action verbs can enter into the following constructions (in these the absence of a case
label indicates the morphologically unmarked ‘nominative’ form):

agentive A-clauses
agentless P-clauses
agentive P-clauses

Class 1: Transitive verbs of the type ‘to break’ [Agent—


In A-clauses the verbs of this class have two core arguments, functioning as the agent and
the objective/patient respectively, and they can have a non-core instrumental. The P-
clause without an agent encodes events occurring spontaneously, with an agent present it
signals an incidental action on the part of the agent.
‘to break’:
(9a) kooppe binda
child cup break-PAST-A
‘The child (deliberately) broke the cup’ (e.g.
in a fit of anger)
(9b) kooppe
cup break-PAST-P
‘The cup broke/got broken’ (e.g. on having
hot water poured into it)
(9c) kooppe
child-INS cup break-PAST-P
‘The child (accidentally) broke the cup’ (e.g.
when trying to wash it)
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 111

(9d) mee viiduru nææ

these glasses break-NON-FIN-PRES-P NEG
‘These glasses do not break/ are

We interpret this range of possible constructions as involving, firstly, an opposition

between a transitive A-clause (9a) with an agent intentionally bringing about a state of
affairs on an object, and an ‘anticausative’ (9b) characterised by agent defocusing, with
the event seen as occurring spontaneously (‘by itself’). The class of lexical items eligible
for the object slot of the transitive clause is co-extensive with that eligible for the subject
slot of the intransitive clause. (9d) illustrates the ‘potential’ reading of the agentless P-
Secondly, and purely descriptively speaking, the basic P-clause has an expanded form
(9c) characterised by the addition of a noun phrase in the instrumental case, whose
marker with animates is atin (a postposition formally and etymologicaly identical with
the instrumental case of the word ‘hand’, as in 10a). One might interpret this atin-
phrase as an adverbial constituent but the selectional restrictions pertaining to it are the
same as those pertaining to the initial constituent of the A-clause and, on this basis, the
atin-phrase forms part of the argument structure of the verb. It encodes, with this verb
class, the human being involved in the event as the ‘accidental agent’ that sets it off. This
expanded P-clause thus contrasts formally and functionally with the transitive A-clause,
which encodes the event as an action carried out by a volitive agent. The basic semantic
difference between the A-clause and the expanded P-clause is thus one of control:
intentional action versus unintentional, incidental involvement.
‘to break off, pluck’
(10a) atin pol
child hand-INS coconut break-PRES-A
‘The child breaks/is breaking off the
coconuts with his hands’ (e.g. without
using a knife or a hook)
(10b) pol
child-INS coconuts break-PRES-P
‘The child is (involuntarily) detaching
coconuts’ (e.g. while climbing the tree)
(10c) pol
wind-DAT coconuts break-PRES-P
‘The coconuts get broken off with the
wind/?The wind breaks off the coconuts’

Sentences (10a) and (10b) contrast the sequence agent noun phrase plus adverbial atin
linked by a relation of inalienable possession (in the A-clause) and its grammaticalisation
into a single constituent which here encodes the agent of the P-verb. The initial NP in
(10c) is inanimate; native speakers appear to prefer the adverbial over the agentive
arinəva ‘to open’
(11a) asooka yaturen
Subject, voice and ergativity 112

Asoka key-INS door open-PRES-A

‘Asoka will open the door with the key’
(e.g. when, on coming home, he finds it
door open-PRES-P
‘The door opens (by itself)’ (e.g. in a strong
breeze or because it is badly fixed)
(11c) mee yaturen
this key-INS door open-PRES-P
‘The door opens with this key/?This key
opens the door’
(11d) **
key door open-PRES-A
‘The key opens the door’
wind-DAT door open-PRES-P
‘The door opens with the wind/?The wind
opens the door’ (because it is badly fixed)
Asoka-DAT door open-PRES-P
‘The (automatic) door is opening for
Asoka/?Asoka is (mechanically) opening
the door’ (i.e. when he approaches the door
the opening mechanism is activated and it

Sentence (11a) encodes the instrument in addition to the agent. The syntactic status of the
instrumental in (11c) and of the datives in (11e) and (11f) is potentially ambiguous
between adverbial (non-argument) and subject (argument) function. Although in (c) and
(e) ‘key’ and ‘wind’ are ‘in subject position’ an agentive reading of them makes native
speakers uncomfortable. This issue is taken up again in section 4.
halənəva ‘to drop, spill’
child water drop-PRES-A
‘The child is (deliberately) spilling the
water’ (e.g. out of mischief when asked to
fetch some in a vessel)
water drop-PRES-P
‘The water is spilling/is getting spilled’
(because the child carrying it has overfilled
the vessel or some-one has knocked it)
leaves drop-PRES-P
‘The leaves are falling/fall’

temənəva ‘to moisten, soak, wet’

Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 113

(13a) putaa
Son floor wet-PRES-A
‘The little boy is relieving himself on the
(13b) putaa-atin
Son-INS floor wet-PRES-P
‘The child is (unintentionally) wetting the
floor’ (while playing with water)
rain-DAT they(-ACC) drench-PRES-P
‘They are getting wet with the rain/?The
rain is drenching them’ (e.g. as they have
no umbrella and there is no shelter)

vavənəva ‘to grow’

(14a) mage vatte pol
I I-GEN garden-LOC coconuts grow-
‘I grow coconuts in my garden’
(14b) mee vatte vii
this garden-LOC paddy grow-PRES-P
‘Rice is grown in this garden’

næti venəva/kərənəva ‘to become lost’

(15a) mage næti
child I-GEN purse the loose-PERF-A
‘The child has lost my purse’
(15b) mage næti vela
I-GEN purse the loose-PERF-P
‘I have lost my purse’

There are borderline cases in all classifications and, as in many other languages, the
following verb is abnormal. We have placed it here because formally it shares properties
with the verbs of this class despite the animacy of the patient. The P-forms of ‘kill’ mean
both ‘be killed’, which presupposes an agent, and ‘die’, which does not.
marənəva ‘to kill’/mærenəva ‘to die’
(16a) minihek mæruna
man-INDEF die-PAST-P
‘A man died/has died’
(16b) minihek mæruva
P. man-INDEF kill-PAST-A
‘Piyadaasa killed a man’
(16c) ellila mæruna
B. hang-ABS die-PAST-P
‘Banda committed suicide by hanging
(16d) apee ballaa mæruna
Subject, voice and ergativity 114

our dog die-PAST-P

‘Our dog died/has died’
(16e) ballaa mæruva
I-NOM dog kill-PAST-A
‘I (deliberately) killed the dog’
(16f) maa-atin ballaa mæruna
I-INS dog die-PAST-P
‘I (accidentally) killed the dog’

In this class, then, the animate instrumental-marked NP appears to have been

grammaticalised to become a core argument encoding the incidental agent.

Class 2: transitive action verbs of the type ‘to make, to build’


With the verbs of this class, unlike those of the previous one, an agent is implied, whether
overtly encoded or not. Alongside the unmarked active clause there are three types of P-
clause here: (a) agentless; (b) with the agent in the instrumental; (c) with the agent in the
In interpreting the P-clauses of this class of basic transitive verbs we start from
Shibatani’s perspective that passive voice shifts the focus of interest away from the agent
to a greater or lesser degree (his ‘agent defocusing’, 1985:837). In the agentless passive
the focus falls on the patient as the referent that undergoes a change of state, and this shift
from the initiator to the end-point of the action explains the close link between passive,
resultative and perfect (Nedjalkov 1988 ch. l). Shibatani’s characterisation of passive
voice can thus straightforwardly account for such result-oriented passives as (17b–g),
(18e–f), (19b) and (22b). (180, with the negative marker, exemplifies the ‘potential’
When the P-clause is expanded by a noun phrase in the instrumental case, this noun
phrase typically encodes a person designated to carry out a particular task: a craftsman, a
servant, or the person habitually charged with it. It would appear that the instrumental
indicates that the person carrying out the work may not necessarily be responsible for it
and that ultimate control may possibly lie with some other party. Such clauses normally
also include an adverb such as ‘well’, which characterises the quality of the result of the
action. Thus, in sentences (17d), (18d) and (18i), the ‘executive’ marked by instrumental
case has agent role although not necessarily all the features constitutive of control are
present, hence the focus on the person’s potential for achieving the desired result: ‘Y
does X well.’ There is, in other words, a kind of agent demotion here in the sense that of
all the properties subsumed under the notion of control only the referent’s
‘instrumentality’ is under review. This explains why this structure is typically employed
when recommending a person for doing a particular job.
As regards the question which of the two noun phrases represents the syntactic
subject, we have already noted that formal indicators of subjecthood such as subject-verb
agreement are not available and it will be seen from the other verb classes discussed
below that neither clause-initial position nor case-marking are failsafe indicators of
subject status. We argue (see section 4) that subject status in colloquial Sinhala is
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 115

semantically determined and falls on the argument of the verb which has the highest
position in a hierachy formed by two complementary properties, control and affectedness
(see section 5): agent role is endowed with maximal control and absence of affectedness,
patient role with absence of control and maximal affectedness while experiencer role
partakes to some degree in both.
The structure of this type of P-clause suggests that it has resulted from the reanalysis
of an agentless passive expanded by an adverbial phrase. On account of its instrumental
function and the animacy of the referent this postpositional phrase would be attracted into
the argument structure of the verb as an agent and this role would give it first claim to
subjecthood. The grammatical relations of this clause type would accordingly appear to
be those of the corresponding A-clause but its semantic reading differs by being stative
(‘inactive’), focusing on the agent’s ability to carry out a task rather than on the action as
Dative case marks, in an A-clause, the target of an action, that is to say the person at
the receiving end of it (see class 3). In conjunction with passive morphology it marks an
agent who is simultaneously also an affected party. P-clauses with dative subjects
generally encode unpremeditated incidental actions on the part of an agent who ‘did not
mean to’ do what he did and may as a result be in some way affected by the action. The
grammatical relations are, here too, those of the corresponding A-clause—compare 19a
and c, 21a and b—and the two encodings differ semantically.
Despite differences, instrumental and dative encoding of the agent may therefore be
seen as signalling incomplete control: in the case of the instrumental because ultimate
control may reside outside the referent of the atin-phrase, in the case of the dative
because the action is unpremeditated and reflects back on the agent. In both types,
however, this marked encoding does not affect the subject status of the agent noun phrase
and the grammatical relations are those of the corresponding A-clause. It is in this respect
that Sinhala (presumably together with other Indo-Iranian languages) differs from
western Indo-European languages such as English whose subject, especially in the
passive voice, is a grammaticalised topic. In Sinhala the subject is a semantic pivot and is
determined by the argument structure of the verb. This explains an exactly parallel
development which took place in the early history of Indo-Iranian when inherited
passives with the agent encoded in the form of an adjunct underwent an ergative
reanalysis. In both cases the reanalysis affected basic transitive verbs and must have been
triggered by the same semantic notion of subjecthood.

hadənəva ‘to build, make’

(17a) geyak
I-NOM house-INDEF build-PRES-A
‘I am building a house’
(17b) gee hæduna
house soon make-PAST-P
‘The house has got built quickly’ (i.e., the
building has come up in a very short time)
(17c) maase geval dekak hæduna
last month there houses two build-PAST-P
‘Last month two houses got built there’ (i.e.
two houses have come up on the site. The
Subject, voice and ergativity 116

speaker does not know who built them nor to

whom they belong)
(17d) gee hæduna
builder-INS house nicely build-PAST-P
‘The house has come up nicely at the hands
of the builder’
(17e) hædila. kaa-atin ? amma-
food nicely make-PERF-P who-INS Q
‘The food has been beautifully cooked. Who
by? By (our) mother.’
(17f) hædila
child well make-PAST-P
‘The child has grown tall’
(17g) mage atee hæduna
I-GEN hand-LOC boil-INDEF make-PAST-
‘A boil has come up on my hand’/I’ve
developed a boil on my hand’
(17h) hæduna
he-DAT illness make-PAST-P
‘He was afflicted with a disease’
I-DAT frequently cold make-PRES-P
‘I frequently get colds’

hoodənəva ‘to wash’

(18a) amma redi
mother clothes wash-PRES-A
‘Mother is washing clothes’ (in reply to
‘Where is Mother?’)
(18b) amma saban-valin
mother soap-with floor wash-PRES-A
‘Mother washes/is washing the floor with
(18c) saban-valin
soap-with floor nicely wash-PRES-P
‘When soap is used the floor cleans well’
(18d) amma-atin
mother-INS floor nicely wash-PRES-P
‘When(ever) Mother does it, the floor gets
well cleaned’
(18e) iiye rææ
yesterday night rain-GERUND floor wash-
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 117

‘When it rained last night the floor got

washed’ (and, e.g., all the dust is gone)
(18f) mee heedenne nææ
this floor wash-NON-FIN-PRES-P NEG
‘This floor does not/won’t wash’ (because
the finish is poor)
(18g) heedune nææ
car-DEF properly wash-NON-FIN-PAST-P
‘This car has not had a proper wash’
(18h) kamise mage-atin heedune nææ
shirt I-(GEN)-INS well wash-NON-FIN-
‘I have not given the/my shirt a proper
(18i) mee redi
this washer-man-INS clothes nicely wash-
‘When this laundry-man does them the
clothes are well washed/This laundry-man
washes (the) clothes well’

kanəva ‘to eat’

(19a) bat kææva
child rice eat-PAST-A
‘The child ate rice’
(19b) kævuna
food all eat-PAST-P
‘All the food has got eaten’
(19c) vaha kævuna
child-DAT poison eat-PAST-P
‘The child (accidentally) swallowed
(19d) miniha vaha kææva
man poison eat-PAST-A
‘The man took poison’

liyənəva ‘to write’

(20a) liyumak
I letter-INDEF write-PRES-A
‘I am writing a letter’
(20b) iiye hari mahansii. kææmen
I-DAT yesterday very tired. I meal-INS
Subject, voice and ergativity 118

article write-INF sit-PAST-P I article write-
nevei. maa-atin namut

NEG that I-INS write-PAST-P but that

‘I was very tired yesterday. After the meal I
sat down to write an article. I could not
write the article and yet somehow it got
written and in fact it turned out to be very

paagənəva ‘to trample, step on’

(21a) aliya pææguva
elephant I-ACC step-PAST-A
‘The elephant (deliberately) trampled me’
(21b) pææguna
elephant I-ACC step-PAST-P
‘The elephant (accidentally) trampled me’
(21c) pææguna
I-DAT serpent step-PAST-P
‘I (accidentally) stepped on a serpent’

toorənəva ‘to select, sort out, explain’

(22a) eyaa teeruva
he I-ACC job-DAT select-PAST-A
‘He selected me for the job’
(22b) teeruna
I-ACC job-DAT select-PAST-P
‘I got selected for the job’
(22c) mee
I-DAT this book well explain-PRES-P
‘I understand this book well’

It will be seen that the animate patient potentially ‘retains’ the accusative-marking of the
corresponding active clause while at the same time, on account of its animacy, qualifying
for subject role.2
kapənəva ‘to cut’
(23a) gaha

Piyadasa carelessly tree cut-PRES-A

‘Piyadasa is cutting down the tree
(23b) taatta lovva gaha
Father Piyadasa by tree cut-CAUS-PRES-
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 119

‘Father is having the tree cut down by
(23c) mage
I-GEN knife well cut-PRES-P
‘My knife cuts well’

2. The use of the accusative marker is subject to considerable variation, not only from person to
person but also, it would seem, from lexical item to lexical item (Gair 1970:28f.) although it is
never totally absent from any one’s speech and is generally preferred in the case of pronouns. Our
data here reflect G.W.’s usage. We shall not be concerned with these sociolinguistic aspects.
(23d) mage kæpuna
that I-GEN knife-DAT cut-PAST-P
‘It got cut with my knife/?My knife cut it’
(e.g. when I was trying to cut something
the object in question accidentally got cut
along with it; or, my knife was so good that
it was actually able to cut the object in

With this large class of transitive verbs, then, the basic unexpanded P-clause may have
either an action or stative reading, the latter especially when an adverb is present. The
agent of the expanded P-clause has two possible encodings, instrumental or dative. The
instrumental encoding normally requires the presence of an adverb and has habitual or
stative meaning. Being the most animate argument of the verb, this atin-phrase has first
claim to subject status. The dative encoding marks the incidental affected agent in the
case of animates (and, perhaps, also an inanimate subject). These marked encodings of
the agent are considered further in section 4. They are of considerable interest as we are
dealing with prototypical transitive verbs and the development of a new, highly marked,
syntactic pattern not unlike the ergative construction. In both the present case and in the
ergative construction, subjecthood appears to fall to the ‘most animate’ noun phrase in
the clause (i.e., its position in the hierarchy of semantic roles), and we may here have an
explanation for the fact that ergativity has developed only in the Indo-Iranian languages
within Indo-European. It can be argued that subjects are in these languages semantic
pivots whereas in the western European languages they are grammaticised topics.

Class 3: Action verbs with animate recipient [Agent—Recipient—


One might consider making a subdivision between three-place verbs such as ‘show’,
‘send’, ‘give’ and two-place verbs such as ‘hit’, ‘shoot (at)’, ‘bath’, but there does not
seem any justification, judging from our data. P-clauses with dative subject are not
excluded in principle if required on pragmatic grounds but appear to be rare.

denəva ‘to give’

(24) amma
Subject, voice and ergativity 120

mother gentleman-DAT food give-PRES-A

‘Mother gives/is giving the gentleman food’

baninəva ‘to scold’

(25) ee miniha eyaage bænna
that man he-GEN son-DAT scold-PAST-A
‘That man scolded his son’

tiyənəva ‘to shoot’

(26) polis kaaraya pissu ve tibba
policeman mad dog-DAT shoot-PAST-A
‘The policeman shot the mad dog’

gahanəva ‘to hit’

child dog-DAT hit-PRES-A
‘The child hits/is hitting the dog’

Class 4: Intransitive action verbs [Agent_]

Although intransitive, at least some of these verbs have the potential of forming P-clauses
should the situation demand this; but one would not normally expect P-clauses with verbs
denoting inherently deliberate actions, such as ‘to walk, travel’, ‘to
bark’, ‘to jump’.

‘to dance’
child well dance-PRES-A
‘The child dances well (e.g. because she is
trying hard or has talent)’
Child-DAT dance-PRES-P
‘The child is willy-nilly dancing (e.g.
because, with the music, she can’t help it)’

duvənəva ‘to run’

(29) malli
younger brother home run-PRES-A
‘Younger Brother* is running home’
(*affectionate term for any small boy)

yanəva ‘to go’

I today shop-DAT go-PRES-A
‘I am going to the shop today’
(30b) amma
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 121

mother younger-brother-ACC home go-

‘My mother is sending Younger Brother
(30c) potak
I mother-DAT book-INDEF go-CAUS-
‘I’ll send mother a book’

danəgahanəva ‘to kneel’

I kneel-PRES-A
‘I kneel down’ (e.g. when I pray)
I-DAT kneel-PAST-P
‘My knees gave way’ (e.g. on seeing the
terrible accident)

bahinəva ‘to descend’

sun set-PRES-A
‘The sun is setting’

paayənəva ‘to clear up’

sun clear-PRES-A
‘The sun is getting bright/is rising’

vahinəva ‘to rain’ (this verb is either impersonal or has a cognate subject)
(rain) rain-PRES-A
‘It is raining’
today rain-PRES-A
‘It is raining today’

Class 5: Intransitive verbs with patient subjects such as ‘fall’


The verbs of this class have passive morphology and inert subjects, these being either
inanimate or animate; in the latter case they (potentially) take the accusative case-marker.
Deliberate human intervention requires the causative verb.

‘to fall’
child(-ACC) river-DAT fall-PAST-P
Subject, voice and ergativity 122

‘The child fell into the river’

(35b) iiye

yesterday house-LOC go-GERUND I-ACC

‘While going home yesterday I fell’
(35c) kooppe
cup fall-PAST-P
‘The cup fell’
leaves fall-PRES-P
‘The leaves are falling’
(35e) akka
elder sister child-ACC fall-CAUS-PAST-
‘Elder Sister (deliberately) dropped the
1 child book fall-CAUS-PRES-A
‘The child is dropping the book

hæpenəva ‘to strike against, bump into’

(36a) hæpuna
child(-ACC) chair-LOC hit-PAST-P
‘The child bumped into a chair’
(36b) kaar kanuve hæpuna
car the post-LOC hit-PAST-P
‘The car hit the lamp-post’
(36c) taatta kaar kanuve
father car the post-LOC hit-CAUS-PRES-
‘Father (deliberately) crashes the car
against the lamp-post’

lissenəva ‘to slip’

(37) lissuva
‘I slipped’ (e.g. because the pavement was

The above data reflect the speech of the first named author (G.W.), who has active
morphology with this verb; the second author (D.W.) accepts both active and passive
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 123

Class 6: Intransitive verbs with invariably inanimate subject and

(normally) active morphology [NP[-animate]_]

These are the only verbs which violate the rule that inanimate subjects select passive
morphology. One could either argue that ‘river’ and ‘water’ are treated as animate and
therefore select active morphology or that, since the subject is inherently non-human with
this class of verb active morphology is non-contrastive here.

galənəva ‘to flow’

river flow-PRES-A
‘The river flows’ (i.e. is not stagnant)

uturənəva ‘to boil’

water boil-PRES-A
‘The water is boiling’
water boil-PRES-P
‘The water is boiling’

pirenəva ‘to fill’

rain rain-GERUND river fill-PRES-P
‘The river fills/is filling with the rain’

Class 7: Verbs of physical or mental perception [Agent—(Patient)_]

With this class of verb, active morphology encodes deliberate physical or mental
perception and passive morphology encodes intuitive awareness. Unlike the case of the
verbs considered so far, there do not appear to be cogent arguments for saying that either
the active or the passive encoding is more basic. What matters is that the human noun
phrase has argument status and is inherently present even if unencoded (see section 4).

balənəva ‘to watch’/bælenəva ‘to see’

doctor child-ACC look-PRES-A
‘The doctor is examining the child’
doctor-DAT child-ACC see-PRES-P
‘The doctor sees the child’ (e.g. from his
window, playing). This verb does not have a
corresponding A-form.)
(41b) sadde ee
noise-the hear-GERUND (I-DAT) that direction
Subject, voice and ergativity 124

look-PAST- P
‘When I heard the noise I (automatically)
looked in that direction’
I always plays look-PRES-A

but (I-DAT) occasionally film-INDEF look-

‘I usually watch plays but occasionally I may
watch a film’

ahanəva ‘to listen’/æhenəva ‘to hear’

child story hear-PRES-A
‘The child is listening to the story’
child-DAT story hear-PRES-P
‘The child hears the story’
(42c) oonækamin æhuve nææ.
I deliberately listen-NON-FIN-PAST-A
namut eegollo
but they tell-PRES-PART-thing I-DAT
‘I was not listening but I heard what they
(42d) eken
ingriisi sindu
I-NOM always radio one-from English

listen-PRES-A but sometimes (I)

French songs hear-PRES-P
‘I always (make a point of) listen(ing) to
English songs on the radio but sometimes I
may hear French songs’

matak venəva/kərənəva ‘to remember’

(43a) eyaa matak unaa
I-DAT he about remember-PAST-P
‘I remembered him’
(43b) matak vunaa ?
you-DAT book bring-INF remember-
‘Did you remember to bring the book?’
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 125

(45c) matak
book put-PART place remember-IMP-A
‘(Try to) remember where you put the
(43d) matak
I-DAT that remember-PRES-P
‘I remember that’
(43e) matak
I that remember-PRES-A
‘I (deliberately) recall that’

hitənəva ‘to think’

(44a) eyaa
I he about deliberately think-PRES-A
‘I am (consciously) thinking of him’
(because I am worried about him)
(44b) eyaa
I-DAT he about think-of-PRES-P
‘I am reminded of him/her’
(44c) eyaa
he-NOM that good COMP think-PRES-A
‘He considers it to be good/thinks it good’
he-DAT that good COMP think-PRES-P
‘It seems/looks good to him’

kiyənəva ‘to tell, say, utter’

(45a) kavi kivvaa
I poem say-PAST-A
‘I recited poetry’
(45b) kavi
I-DAT poem say-CAUS-PRES-P
‘Poetry comes to my lips’ (involuntarily,
the state of emotion I am in automatically
brings the poem to my lips)
(45c) boru kivvaa; namut

I-NOM always lies say-PAST-A but

accidentally (I) truth say-PAST-P
‘I always (deliberately) told lies but
sometimes I (accidentally) told the truth’
I book say-CAUS-PRES-A
‘I am reading the book’
(45f) mee
Subject, voice and ergativity 126

this book well say-CAUS-PRES-P

‘This book reads well’
The P-form here is formally though not
semantically causative.

Stative verbs are characterised by inherent passive morphology and non-prototypical


Class 8: Verbs denoting physical or mental states [Experiencer—


What is specific to the verbs of this class is that the invariably animate argument suffers a
particular physical or mental state. Its marked subject status is signalled by its case-
marking and by the passive morphology of the verb.

ridenəva ‘to hurt, feel pain’

‘I am in pain’
(46b) mage
I-GEN hand hurt-PRES-P
‘My hand is hurting’

dænenəva ‘to feel’

I-DAT cold feel-PRES-P
‘I am cold’
I-DAT hunger feel-PRES-P
‘I am hungry’

4. Subject assignment is controversial not only in the case of Sinhala but also in Hindi,
Panjabi and Kashmiri (Kachru et al. 1976), and in fact other Indo-Aryan languages
(Verma 1976, Masica 1991:339–64). The main reason for this is that morphological
criteria for subjecthood (such as case-marking and verb agreement) often point to one
noun phrase while syntactic criteria (such as pronoun deletion in conjoined clauses) point
to another, as is the case for instance with ergative constructions in Hindi and dative-
subject constructions in Bengali. We have already noted that for Gair (1970: ch.5) the
non-nominative case-marking of the initial NP of the P-clause precludes it from being
interpreted as the syntactic subject. Our own position is that subjects range from the
prototype of the A-clause to increasingly marked types in P-clauses, in terms of a fairly
shallow notion of subject for which Foley and Van Valin (1984:110ff.) employ the term
‘pivot’. We have argued that subject status is semantically determined in colloquial
Sinhala and falls on the argument highest on the hierarchy of semantic roles. Case-
marking and verb morphology alone are therefore not sufficient to determine the
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 127

syntactic and semantic interpretation of the clause; it is the interaction of these with the
argument structure of the respective verb that provides its proper analysis.
Our main evidence for saying that an NP has subject status in spite of bearing a non-
nominative case marker comes from conjoined clauses. Certain other standard tests of
subjecthood, such as control of the reflexive or of the subject of an infinitive, work well
for A-clauses (which are, in any case, unproblematic) but are applicable to P-clauses only
to a limited extent. Even conjunction reduction is not altogether conclusive since subjects
may generally be omitted when they are understood from the context. ‘Polite’ omission
of the pronoun of address, for instance, is illustrated in the dialogue at the beginning of
this paper and occasional examples of absent subjects are found throughout. A certain
amount of structural indeterminacy seems, in fact, to be readily tolerated under the
appropriate pragmatic conditions.
The hypothesis underlying the following tests is that, in a pair of conjoined clauses,
the subject NP of the second clause may be omitted (rather than merely pronominalised)
when it is coreferential with that of the first. In Sinhala it so happens that the verb in the
first clause takes a non-finite form, but otherwise the principle would appear to hold. We
shall first illustrate the test by selecting action verbs with their prototypical subjects in the
nominative case. Thus, with coreferential subjects,
(48a) amma tee kææva
Mother tea drink-GERUND biscuit eat-
‘Mother drank tea and ate biscuits’

In the case of non-coreferential subjects on the other hand there is of course no deletion:
(48b) amma tee
Mother tea drink-GERUND child biscuit
‘While Mother was drinking tea the child
ate a biscuit’

Having illustrated the principle, we will now turn to P-clauses to see whether the
proposed subjects behave in the same way as the subjects of A-clauses. We will begin
with one-place verbs, whose single argument is by definition the subject. Items optionally
present are enclosed in round brackets.
(49a) amma paare

Mother road-LOC go-GERUND (she-

ACC) fall-PAST-P
‘While Mother was walking down the road
she fell’
(49b) amma tee kooppe vætuna
Mother tea drink-GERUND cup fall-
‘While Mother was drinking tea the cup
Subject, voice and ergativity 128

One-place experiencer verbs with the experiencer as the only argument are equally
(50) amma tee
Mother tea drink-GERUND (she-DAT) hurt-
‘While drinking tea Mother was in pain’

With an impersonal verb such as ‘rain’ there is no possibility of a covert human

experiencer ( væssa, or the like, is not possible).
(51a) amma tee væssa
Mother tea drink-GERUND rain-PAST-A
‘While Mother was drinking tea it rained’

The only possible alternative is a cognate subject:

(51b) amma tee væssak væssa
Mother tea drink-GERUND rain rain-
‘While Mother was drinking tea a shower

With Class 1 verbs such as ‘break’ the A-clause is, again, straightforward:
(52a) amma tee kooppe binda
Mother tea drink-GERUND cup break-
‘When drinking tea Mother (deliberately)
broke the cup’

whereas a conjoined P-clause without an overt agent is potentially ambiguous: the cup
may have broken by itself (intrans. ‘break’) or it may have got broken accidentally by an
agent not in full control. We are dependent on contextual information for the correct
(52b) amma tee kooppe
Mother tea drink-GERUND cup break-
‘When Mother was drinking tea
(i) the cup broke’ (because it was already
cracked and the tea was very hot)
(ii) she (accidentally) broke the cup’ (by
being careless and letting it slip from her
Inclusion of eyaa-atin [she-INS] will
ensure the second reading.

In the case of perception verbs the A-clause has a prototypical subject and poses no
(53a) amma tee sinduvak æhuva
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 129

Mother tea drink-GERUND song-INDEF

‘While drinking tea Mother listened to a

With the P-clause an agentless ‘spontaneous’ reading is excluded because the verbs of
this class have an agent. Native speaker reaction to the following example (53b)
definitely points to Mother happening to hear a song, in the sense that a song reached her
ear without her making any effort to listen:
(53b) amma tee
sinduvak æhuna
Mother tea drink-GERUND (she-DAT)
song-INDEF hear-PAST-P
‘While drinking tea Mother heard a song’

P-clauses of class 2 verbs would appear on the face of it to have three potential
candidates for subjecthood: the patient in the nom/acc, the demoted agent in the dative
and, more controversially, the instrumental phrase. The dative encoding poses no
(54a) velaa
Devika-DAT hungry-be-ABS (she-DAT)
food all eat-PAST-P
‘Devika was hungry and (without meaning
to) ate all the food’
(54b) amma

Mother Colombo be-GERUND (she-DAT)
fever make-PAST-P
‘When Mother was in Colombo she was
afflicted with a fever’

The subject status of the instrumental phrase remains somewhat problematic. In the case
of sentences (55–56) the test may be hampered by the fact that the first clause encodes an
action while the second is stative/ resultative. (57) combines two states but native
speakers only reluctantly accept the second reading. They are agreed though that
pragmatically these utterances all have to do with the competence/ability of the person
performing the action in question and that their purpose is to recommend the person as a
good floor-washer or builder, on the grounds that the finished product which results from
his work is good.
(55) (eyaa-atin)

Banda floor wash-GERUND (he-INS) well

‘When Banda washes the floor it gets well
washed/?he washes it well’
Subject, voice and ergativity 130

(56) mee geval (eyaa-atin)

this builder houses build-GERUND (he-

INS) well build-PRES-P
‘When this builder builds houses they are
built well/?he builds them well’
(57) mee daksa haandaa
this builder much clever because well houses
‘As this builder is very clever houses get
well built by him/?he builds houses well’

Note that in other respects these examples fully confirm what was said above regarding
these particular P-clauses of class 2 verbs, namely that they encode a general state of
affairs rather than an action as such.
As regards inanimate NPs in the instrumental case and ‘in subject position’, (58a) is
genuinely ambiguous while in (58b–c) and in (59a–b) the adverbial interpretation of the
instrumental appears to be preferred over its interpretation as the subject.
(58a) yaturen ærilaa
key-INS door open-ABS it stick-PAST-P
‘After the door had been opened with the
key/the key had opened the door, it stuck’
(where ‘it’ could be either the key or the
(58b) tibilaa yaturen ærunaa
door stick-ABS be-ABS key-INS open-
‘The door stuck but was opened with the
key’/?the key opened it’
(58c) hiravelaa (eeken) ærune nœœ
key stick-ABS (it-INS) door open-NON-
‘The key stuck and the door could not be
opened with it/?and would not open the
(59a) mee katuren

these scissors-INS cut-GERUND paper well cut-


‘When (one) cuts with these scissors paper cuts

easily/?These scissors cut paper easily’
(59b) mee katuren

these scissors-INS paper cut-GERUND well cut-

‘When (one) cuts paper with these scissors it cuts
easily/? they cut paper easily’
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 131

In 60, a subject is omitted altogether:

Kandi-LOC be-GERUND fever make-
‘When (one) is in Kandy (one) gets fever’

In the following examples the P-clause precedes the A-clause. (61) and (62) pose no
problems. (63a) and (b) conjoin an inherently stative clause with an action clause and are
therefore unlikely to throw light on the syntactic status of the instrumental-marked
phrase. (** indicates that the sentence is unacceptable).
(61) (eyaa) beet biuva
Mother-DAT hurt-GERUND (she)
medicine drink-PAST-A
‘When Mother was in pain she took
(62) (eyaa)
Banda-DAT key fmd-ABS (he) door open-
‘When Banda had found the key he opened
the door’
(63a) heedila
Banda-INS floor wash-PERF (it) quickly
‘When the floor got washed by
Banda/When Banda washed the floor it
dried quickly’
(63b) ** heedila (eyaa)
Banda-INS floor wash-ABS (he) food eat-
‘When the floor was washed by
Banda/?Banda had washed the floor he ate

It seems to us that animate NPs in the instrumental have become grammaticalised from
adverbial to agent and become integrated into the argument structure of the verb. The
subject status of inanimate noun phrases in the instrumental case which may be thought
of having argument status is less clear-cut and our present data on ablatives and locatives
are too limited to allow any firm conclusions. Subject status may reasonably also be
allocated to dative-marked NPs encoding such natural forces as the wind (10c, 11e) and
the rain (13c), despite the fact that in their case the dative does not commute with a
The subject status of certain human arguments of P-verbs is also confirmed by other
aspects of their syntax such as their embedding into a matrix clause, which demands a
non-finite sentential complement whose unencoded subject is coreferential with the
matrix subject or object. The following illustrates the structure in question:
Subject, voice and ergativity 132

I come-INF think-PRES-A
‘I am thinking of coming/I intend to come’

The problem is that infinitives with P-verbs in the matrix clause are not possible here. P-
verbs have a finite structure marked by ‘that’:
(66) [ næggot ]

tree-DAT climb-COND I-ACC fall-OPT

‘If I climb the tree I feel I might fall’

Verbs such as ‘want’ and ‘can’ do take infinitival complements but in their case it is
necessary first to clarify the analysis of the resulting structure. Gair (1970:110ff.)
distinguishes two possible embedding transformations with such predicates, depending
on their verbal or non-verbal status. The former is seen as simply adding modality to a
clause whereas in Gair’s non-verbal type (sic) patterns differently. In our analysis
the matrix predicate is one-place in 67 but two-place in 68, its subject being coreferential
with the embedded subject.
I Sinhala learn-INF necessary
‘I must learn Sinhala’; compare:
I Sinhala learn-PRES-A
‘I am learning Sinhala’
I-DAT quickly Sinhala learn-INF necessary
‘I need to learn Sinhala quickly’; compare:
I quickly Sinhala learn-PRES-A
‘I am learning Sinhala quickly’

With an embedded P-clause:

‘The child must (be able to) hear’ (i.e. the
sound is loud enough);
‘The child can hear’ (i.e. the sound reaches
his ear)

The following minimally distinct sentences illustrate the two types of structure and give
an indication of the semantic/pragmatic differences between them:
‘It is necessary that I go home’ (since, e.g.,
my father has died)
‘I need/want to go home’ (e.g. since I am
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 133

‘It is necessary that I die’ (in order to save
my child)
‘I need/want to die’ (because I am so ill)

Despite the fact that the class of possible embeddings of P-clauses is, for semantic and
pragmatic reasons, limited, these structures are perfectly transparent. When is a
modal auxiliary the main verb has an overt subject; when it is the matrix verb, its subject
is coreferential with the ‘deleted’ subject of the infinitive.
We have seen in this section that syntactic subjects range from the prototype in A-
clauses to increasingly marked encodings in P-clauses and that non-nominative NPs have
a potential for bearing subject role to the extent that they can be integrated into the
argument structure of the respective verb and represent the argument which ranks highest
in the hierarchy of semantic roles.
5. Having clarified our notion of subjecthood we can now return to the mapping
relations which we have postulated as holding between the syntactic subject and the
various semantic roles we have abstracted from the argument structure of verbs. We have
shown that in an A-clause the syntactic subject is a prototypical agent while in the
agentless passive clause subject status falls on the patient as the affected entity par
excellence. The subjects of all the other P-clauses we have arranged hierarchically, with
the two types of demoted agent near the top and the experiencer and patient subjects of
inherently middle voice verbs near and at the patient end (see the table below). This
arrangement follows naturally from the material discussed in the previous sections.
The hierarchy of semantic roles is based on the interaction of control and affectedness,
two clines operating in opposite directions and inherently relating to animates. The
typically inanimate adverbial types we have not systematically investigated and their
subject status (given the appropriate constellations) must remain doubtful (see for
instance examples 11c–e, 13c). The animate/inanimate contrast permeates the grammar
of (colloquial) Sinhala at all levels and our concentrating on animate noun phrases would
therefore appear fully justified. The top of the hierarchy is occupied by the agent, which
has three variants: the prototype has all the properties we have subsumed under the notion
AG nom Subj
ins Subj
dat Subj
REC dat IndObj
EXP dat Subj
PAT (acc) DirObj Subj
INS ins Adjunct ?Subj
ABL abl Adjunct ?Subj
LOC loc Adjunct ?Subj
Subject, voice and ergativity 134

‘control’—comprising such features as ability, volition, authority, initiative, competence,

responsibility—and is confined to active voice clauses. The main difference between the
two types of ‘demoted agent’ is reflected in their case-marker: instrumental case encodes
the ‘executive’ agent who lacks ultimate control, dative case the ‘inadvertent’ agent
deficient in control and to some extent affected by the action. Experiencer role associated
with the subjects of stative verbs is characterised by limited control and considerable
affectedness while patient role implies total affectedness and absence of control.
The mapping between semantic roles and morphological cases is transparent and the
rationale behind the choice of case for the different types of subject of the P-clause can
readily be seen. The nominative marks the prototypical agent. The instrumental case
primarily marks the (inanimate) instrument employed by an agent in order to carry out a
particular task; its marked use, with a human agent acting either ‘mindlessly’ without
forethought (with class 1 verbs) or, much like an instrument, carrying out a designated
task (with class 2 verbs), ‘makes sense’. In either case the agent is interpreted as having
limited control but there is no implication of affectedness. The dative case marks the
animate recipient or target of an action in the active voice; its marked use with passive
morphology indicates (a) that an agent inherently endowed with control is affected by the
action he himself has initiated (with action verbs) or (b) (with inherently middle voice
verbs) that an animate referent is in a particular physical or mental state. Both are
‘affected subject’ constructions. The accusative in its unmarked use signals the animate
patient of a transitive action verb; its marked use indicates the affected party of an
inherently middle voice verb such as ‘fall’ and implies total affectedness.
These mapping relations make explicit the principle on which the Sinhala voice
system is based. They also enable us to relate that system to Klaiman’s typology in which
she ranks languages according to the portion of the spectrum of semantic roles capable of
bearing affected entity status (1988:72). At the one extreme, languages such as Tamil are
said to identify affected entity status with agent-related roles (Foley and Van Valin’s
actor macrorole, 1984:30), at the other extreme, in languages like Navajo, affected entity
status falls on undergoers. (‘Actors’ are said to be ‘potential initiators and/or controllers
of the action of the predicate’ while the undergoer macrorole expresses the participant
which, rather than performing, initiating or controlling a situation, is on the contrary
affected by it in some way.)
We have seen that in Sinhala the basic division between active and middle voice
subjects separates the prototypical agent from all other roles including two types of
demoted agent. The subjects of middle voice clauses overlap both macroroles, and
affected entity status is not a necessary condition for middle voice subjecthood.


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APPENDIX: Sample verb list (forms listed: A, P, C; C-forms in the P column indicate
suppletive integration into paradigm of base verb)

Class 1: Neutral verbs [(Agent)—Objective_]

adinəva ‘to ædenəva addənəva
arinəva ‘to ærenəva arəvənəva
beerənəva ‘to beerenəva beerəvənəva
‘to bindənəva
haarənəvə ‘to hæærenəva haarəvənəva
halənəva ‘to hælenəva haloonəva
drop, sift’
huurənəvə ‘to hiirenəva huurəvənəva
irənəvə ‘to irenəva irəvənəva
tear, saw’

‘break, pluck’
lihənəva ‘to lihenəva lissənəva/lissoonəva
madinəva ‘to mædenəva maddənəva
rub, polish’
Subject, voice and ergativity 136

mahanəva ‘to mæhenəva massənəva

makənəva ‘to mækenəva makəvənəva
temənəva ‘to temenəva teməvənəva
ussənəva ‘to issenəva ussoonəva
vanənəva ‘to vænenəva vanəvənəva
vavənəva ‘to vævenəva vavoonəva
marənəva ‘to mærenəva marəvənəva
kill’ ‘to die’

Class 2: Transitive action verbs [Agent—Patient/Objective_]

haanəva ‘to hæævenəva haavənəva
hadənəva hædenəva hadəvənəva/hadoonəva
‘to make’
hoodənəva heedenəva hoodəvənəva
‘to wash’
kanəva ‘to kævenəva kavənəva
kapənəvə kæpenəva kappənəva
‘to cut’

‘to pound’
kərənəva kerenəva kərəvənəva
‘to do’
iyənəva ‘to liyəvenəva liyəvənəva
paagənəva pæægenəva paagoonəva
‘to trample’
padinəva pæd[d]enəva paddənəva
‘to pedal’
toorənəva teerenəva toorəvənəva
‘to select’
uyənəva ‘to idenəva uyəvənəva
cook’ [suppl.]

Class 3: Action verbs with animate recipient [Agent—(Objective)—Recipient_]

arinəva ‘to send’ - -
baninəva ‘to scold’ - bannənəva
denəva ‘to give’ devenəva devənəva
gahanəva ‘to hit’ - gassənəva
geenəva ‘to bring’ - gennənəva
naginəva ‘to climb’ nægenəva naggənəva
Passive-related constructions in colloquial Sinhala 137

gevənəva ‘to gevenəva gevəvənəva

tiyənəva -
‘to shoot’ tiyəvənəva/tibbənəva

Class 4: Intransitive action verbs [Agent_]

‘to cry’
ævidinəva ‘to ævidenəva æviddənəva
bahinəva ‘to bæhenəva bassənəva
burənəva ‘to bark’ - burəvənəva
danəgahanəva ‘to danəgæhenəva danəgassənəva
duvənəva ‘to run’ divəvənəva duvəvənəva
enəva ‘to come’ evenəva evənəva
naanəva ‘to bathe’ næævenəva naavənəva
navətinəva ‘to nævətenəva navəttenəva
‘to -
wake up’
paayənəva ‘to - -
clear up’
paninəva ‘to jump’ - pannənəva
piinənəva ‘to - piinəvənəva
yanəva ‘to go’ yævenəva yavənəva
vahinəva ‘to rain’ - vassənəva

Class 5: Intransitive verbs with patient subjects [Patient/Objective_]

ælenəva ‘to get pasted’ aləvənəva
erenəva ‘to get stuck’ -
gæhenəva ‘to shiver’ -
hæp[p]enəva ‘to strike against’ happənəva
hærenəva ‘to turn (by itself)’ harəvənəva
kærəkenəva ‘to whirl, turn’ karəkavənəva
lissenəva ‘to slip’ lissəvənəva
vadinəva ‘to hit against’ vaddənəva
‘to fall’

Class 6: Intransitive verbs with inanimate subject [Agent_]

bahinəva ‘to flow bæhenəva bassənəva
galənəva ‘to – –
Subject, voice and ergativity 138

pirenəva ‘to get purəvənəva
pupurənəva ‘to pipirenəva pupurəvənəva
uturənəva ‘to itirenəva uturəvənəva

Class 7: Verbs of active physical or mental perception/passive awareness [Agent—

ahanəva/æhenəva ‘to listen/hear’ assənəva
balənəva/bælenəva ‘to watch/see’ baləvənəva
dannəva/dænenəva ‘to know, feel’ dannənəva
hitənəva/hitenəva ‘to think’ -
kiyənəva/kiyəvenəva ‘to tell/utter’ kiyəvənəva

Class 8: Verbs of physical and mental sensation [Experiencer (Objective)_]

dænenəva ‘to feel’ dannənəva
ridenəva ‘to feel pain’ riddənəva
penenəva ‘to see, be aware’ -
teerenəvə ‘to understand’ -
suppletive: dakinəva/peenəva [or penenəva] ‘to

The double listing of dænenva ‘to feel’ in classes 7 and 8 reflects the fact that it could be
considered both a verb in its own right and the involitive counterpart of ‘to
Lone Takeuchi

0. Introduction

In the present paper, the perfective aspect and perfect categories in Classical Japanese
(CJ), as expressed by the verb suffixes -NU, -TSU, -TARI and -RI, are analyzed in close-
up on a sample of representative texts.1 It is shown that the occurrence of these suffixes
in CJ must be understood as determined by several semantic parameters: in particular,
CLOSURE interacts with DIRECTIONALITY and CONTROL. Of these,
DIRECTIONALITY, i.e. the distinction between SOURCE-orientation and GOAL-
orientation, determines the occurrence of the aspect suffixes after motion verbs. It is
suggested that this distinction might be pivotal in the whole range of innovations which
has led to the CJ aspect system.
Interestingly a somewhat similar, but more limited, interaction between
(=[−CLOSURE]/imperfective) categories expressed by a verb in the conjunctional form
concatenating with one of the two CJ directional verbs ku ‘come’ or iku ‘go’. Hence, on
the basis of DIRECTIONALITY, a morphological distinction between the synthetically
formed perfect/ perfective aspect, i.e. [+CLOSURE] categories, which seem to have
developed quite general aspectual denotations, contrasts with analytically formed
[−CLOSURE] imperfective categories in CJ.
The analytic CJ imperfective constructions naturally bring to mind the inchoative-
gradual aspectual categories formed by a concatenation of a verb in the gerund (so-called
te-form) and GO or COME, i.e. -te yuku ‘V and go’ and -te kuru ‘V and come’ in Modern
Standard Japanese (MJ). It seems likely that the innovation of the MJ directional aspect
categories originates in CJ or earlier, and that the two paradigms of CJ and MJ

1 The analysis of CJ presented here is a revised and condensed version of chapters 6 and 8 of
Takeuchi 1987. The three sample texts originate from the beginning of the 10th c. to the beginning
of the 11th c. Existing manuscripts are, however, of considerably later date. The texts are in
chronological order: Taketori Monogatari (Kyûhon taishô Taketori Okina Monogatari goi sakuin,
ed. by Uesaka Nobuo, Kasama Shoin: Tôkyô 1980 (=Kasama Sakuin Sôkan 75)), Kagerô Nikki
(Kaitei shinpan Kagerô Nikki sôsakuin, ed. by Saeki Umetomo & Imuta Tsunehisa, Kazama shobô:
Tky 1981), and the Kiritsubo-Hana no en chapters of Genji Monogatari, ed. by Abe Akio et al.,
Shôgakukan: Tôkyô 1969 (=Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshû 12). When citing examples, reference is
made to page number in the relevant edition. The Hepburn system is used for transliterating both
MJ and CJ, thus ignoring historical orthography (rekishi kanazukai). Upper case letters are used to
highlight the grammatical elements under consideration.
Subject, voice and ergativity 140

participate in the same “analysis-synthesis cycle” (Delancey 1985). The CJ aspect

suffixes, or some of them, may belong to an earlier similar cycle: in particular, -NU is
usually taken to be cognate with inu ‘go away’.

1.0 Classical Japanese perfective aspect and perfect: closure of event

CJ has four aspect suffixes -NU, -TSU, -TARI and -RI2 whose meanings have been
defined as aspectual and more particularly as [+CLOSURE]. Traditionally, they are
treated in pairs, -TARI together with -RI as variants of the PERFECT, and -NU with -
TSU as PERFECTIVE ASPECT categories. Amongst them, -TARI and -RI are said to
differ mainly in terms of their period of formation, hence their different centrality within
CJ: -RI seems about to become obsolete and attaches only to consonant stems and the
highly frequent exalted auxiliary verb tamô. -TARI, on the other hand, is probably a
recent formation whose occurrence is unrestricted after non-stative verbs.
The event denoted by the verb is CLOSED in the case of both the perfective aspect
and the perfect, but the temporal location of the closure varies in relation to the aspect
locus, i.e. the particular perspective or point in the progression of the story line, from
which an event is evaluated.3 This difference is easily appreciated inside narratives: in the
case of the perfective aspect, the closure coincides with the aspect locus, whereas in the
case of the perfect the time of the actional closure precedes the aspect locus, as shown in
(1.a) and (1.b):
(1.a) the perfective aspect orders
the temporal sequencing:
She found the treasure.
She built a house. CJ tateTSU
(1.b) the perfect reverses the
temporal sequencing:
She went to look for the CJ tateTARI(-
treasure. keri)
Someone had built a house where -keri is
where it was supposed to an evidential
have been buried. suffix

CLOSURE entails a radical change in the character of the event, the exact character of
which depends on the verb. For instance, closure of an achievement like motsu ‘get’
results in a state ‘have’. Also the precise limit at which CLOSURE ensues is defined by
context. However, these features are less important to the present topic.

2 These suffixes belong to different inflectional categories. -TARI and -RI inflect like the
existential verb ARI and evidently represent old formations involving that verb. -NU and -TSU, the
two traditional perfective aspect suffixes, belong to different inflectional categories: -TSU is a
vowel stem, and as such generally considered a derived category which perhaps goes back to an old
perfective aspect formation (Wenck 1976–77:399). In its turn, -TSU in combination with the
existential verb ARI gave rise to -TARI. On the order relations of these suffixes, see Takeuchi
3 Cf. Timberlake 1984:317.
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 141

1.1 Transitivity
As for -NU and -TSU, the immediately striking characteristic feature of their distribution
seems to be a preference for attaching to different subsets of verbs. There exists a
sizeable scholarly literature on this distinction, but while transitivity—in a broad sense of
the word at least—evidently is important, none of the suggested criteria is completely
satisfactory.4 The following account will proceed from the assumption of a lexically-
based subcategorization to consider the wider syntactic and pragmatic interaction of
semantic features. It is based on occurrences inside narrative passages only, i.e. in non-
embedded constructions.5
In terms of the parameters of transitivity set up by Hopper and Thompson (1980), -
TSU attaches to verbs which denote an event which is high in transitivity, while -NU
attaches to low transitivity verbs. In case of -TSU, the event of the verb must be under the
control of the subject, who is responsible for the event, and in the majority of verbs at
least one other participant is involved. That is, transitive verbs and causative verbs take -
TSU, provided, of course, that the event includes a closure, i.e. is telic.6
Verbs with one participant only take -NU. Notably, however, CONTROL takes
precedence over the number of participants in the event denoted by a verb. Thus, verbs
with two participants, when the denoted event, or more precisely the ultimate setting in
motion of it is not

4 Lewin 1990 lists the following attempts to define the distinction:

dominating endoactive verbs exoactive verbs
Y.Yamada direct “unbeteiligte Sich”
1908 description (bôkanteki)
Mitsuya active/intentional stative/unintentional
1908 action action
Kolpakci inanimate subj. animate subj,
if animate S, mostly transitive
mostly verbs
intransitive verbs

Lewin concludes (1990:167): “-tu nach Exoaktiva, -nu nach Endoaktiva erweist sich als Faustregel
noch immer am tragfähigsten zumal sie in der klassischen Schriftsprache fast ausnahmslos zutrifft.
Für das Verständnis der Funktionsunterschiede bei exoaktiven Verben leistet Mitsuya’s Hypothese
gute Dienste.”
As for their differences, Ikeda (1975:85) states “nu refers to a structure which changes of its own
accord and is most often used with intransitive verbs, tu shows intention or positive action and is
most used with transitive verbs. Both nu and tu may refer to something which is subjectively
perceived or comprehended, but nu is more subjective and there is a tendency for tu to be used with
a basis of objective fact.”
5 The relevant data are presented in Takeuchi 1987:145ff. The lexical preferences mentioned seem
to prevail, whether -NU and -TSU are used on their own or in combination with other suffixes
which define the event in time. The following combinations occur:
Subject, voice and ergativity 142

past retrospective evidential prospective

past future
-NI- -NU-ramu -NI-keri -NA-mu
-TE- -TU-ramu -TE-keri -TE-mu

6 Many verbs have both telic and atelic uses, e.g. cognition and utterance verbs are atelic in
quotations, e.g. …to iu ‘say that…’ or ‘say’, typically in contrast with direct object constructions,
such as_o iiTSU ‘tell (the truth, etc.)’ as for instance Genji 101.

necessarily subject to the will, construct with -NU, e.g. wasure-‘forget’, sir-‘realize,
understand’, kikoe-‘be audible’ and nar-‘become’. The same semantic conditions apply to
passive constructions e.g. kakusare-‘be hidden’, yurusare-‘be permitted’.
The following example from Ochikubo monogatari (10th–11th c.) illustrates the use of
-NU and -TSU inside an actual narrative. In this passage the maid Akogi is busy
preparing for the visit by a young man to her mistress Lady Ochikubo, a Cinderella-like
(2) Now, as she has nobody to consult, all alone
Akogi applies herself wholeheartedly to a
thousand things. Standing up and sitting
down, she dusts and cleans the Lady’s room,
and as she has no screens or blinds and
therefore no way of decorating it, it is
exasperating to her, but the Lady is (still
lying) without any thought, and when Akogi
urges her to get up so that she can tidy up the
place, the Lady blushes and her eyes are
swollen from weeping.
Feeling great pity for her…she coaxes her as
an adult, but the Lady complains that she is
feeling unwell and LIES DOWN AND LIES
DOWN AGAIN (fusi ni fusiNU).
The Lady owns a dressing-set of rather good
quality. It was her mother’s. It is a very good
mirror and it gives a pleasant impression. She
would have been at a loss, if she had not had
this, Akogi thinks to herself, and polishing it,
she places it at the bedside. In this way,
playing in turn the parent’s and the maid’s
part, she PASSES THE DAY (kurashiTSU)
all by herself in busy preparation.
Thinking that Shôshô (the young man) has
perhaps already left home by now and that
[…..], she decides discreetly to offer the Lady
a trouser-skirt of her own, very pretty night
clothes which she has worn only twice, and
she says, [“…”], and although the Lady is
very ashamed, she has been even more upset
that Shôshô should see her in the same
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 143

garment tonight and, quite grateful, she PUTS

it ON (ki tamaiTSU).
[Some curtains, which Akogi has sought from
her aunt, arrive.] There is no end to her joy.
She takes them out and shows them to the
Lady. Just as she is about to arrange the bands
of the blinds, Shôshô arrives and she SHOWS
him IN (ire tatematsuriTSU). It strikes the
Lady as inappropriate that she should be lying
down. As she is about to get up, he says
[“…”] and she (?) LIES DOWN (fusiNU).
(Ochikubo monogatari 64–667)

From (2) and other examples, it would seem that -TSU and -NU almost always
presuppose that a limit for the actional closure has been set or can be understood from
what precedes. In practice, this means that predicates with -NU or -TSU in narratives
often indicate that a sequence of events

7 Ochikubo Monogatari, in: Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei 13. comm. by Matsuo Satoshi. Iwanami
Shoten: Tôkyô. 1967.

comes to a conclusion.
The definition of control over the event would exclude motion verbs, which
nevertheless consistently occur with -NU. Yet in some instances the event denoted by the
motion verb is obviously not controlled by the subject, for instance, when expressing the
passing of time, as in (3) and (4):
(3) kakute mo tsukihi wa he-NI-keri to
like this- months and pass-NU-EVID
asamashû EXCLU mes-ar-u. (Genji,
oboshi Kiritsubo 110)
surprised exalted think and summon-
Surprised, the Emperor realizes that, after all,
months and days hav passed,
(4) tokonatsu arashi fuki sou
ni storm blow move along-NON-
wild and ki-NI- PAST (poem,
carnation- keri. Genji, Hahakigi
IO 159)
aki mo
autumn- come-NU-EVID
‘I realize that the autumn has come with
sweeping storm!’

As the direction of time-flow is given and its course is continuous and irreversible, the
event denoted by he-NU or ki-NU is clearly beyond the control of the subject.
Subject, voice and ergativity 144

1.2 Directionality
The notion of CONTROL is, however, unable to explain all instances of motion verb+ -
NU. As in MJ, most motion verbs in CJ are neutral for DIRECTIONALITY, and
SOURCE-oriented verbs are limited to saru and inu, both of which denote closed events
only and can be glossed as ‘go (away)’. Apart from these, CJ yuku/iku ‘go (about)’ also
appears to be SOURCE-oriented and in opposition to GOAL-oriented ku ‘come’.8
Verb concatenations with KU and YUKU appear to indicate DIRECTIONALITY in
the case of an OPEN event. The manner of encoding of DIRECTIONALITY in CJ
therefore seems largely to depend on whether the motion is CLOSED or OPEN, as
outlined in (5):



[OPEN] zero/KU zero/YUKU

8 In fact, CJ yuku seems to have been the unmarked member of the two, and therefore available
with non-directional verbs, e.g. mawari yuku ‘move humbly and go’, which do not occur with ku.

Thus, when the event is OPEN, DIRECTIONALITY has no obligatory morphological

expression and depends on the context, as illustrated in the two following imperative
(6) “Na mairi-tamai-so.” (Genji, Hahakigi 183)
PROH humbly move-EXALT-DEM
[Utsusemi to her brother:] “Don’t go!”
(7) “Kotosara ni mair-e.” (Genji, Wakamurasaki
at once ADV humbly move-IMP
“Come here at once.”

Alternatively, DIRECTIONALITY can be encoded by one of the verbs YUKU or KU.

The facts of the distribution of these two verbs in CJ are quite complex,10 and as is often
the case, only indirect criteria like frequency of occurrence and versatility of
combinations with other verbs can decide the case for a grammaticalized structure rather
than for two clauses.11 On the basis of the present sample, two facts of the distribution of
CJ YUKU and KU seem significant: all the concatenations with YUKU and all but a few
examples with KU take the simplex non-past affix -(R)U, and are hence likely to denote
[OPEN] events; there is a significant number of concatenations of YUKU with non-
motion verbs denoting limited-control events,12 whereas ide ku ‘be made’ is the only
instance of a concatenation with KU where a limited control interpretation seems
appropriate. Presumably, the concatenation with YUKU leads to the innovation of a
gradual, [−CONTROL] [OPEN] denotation. In such cases, YUKU always follows the
head verb, as for instance in (8):
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 145

(8) fuke YUK-U hodo ni,…(Genji, Momiji no ga

grow dark and GO-NON-PAST while LOC
‘as it gradually grows dark…’

Quite likely the development of CJ YUKU was mirrored on the CLOSED category -NU
which, as shown in the following, displayed collusion of [−CONTROL] and [SOURCE].

9 Another pair of examples with izu ‘move outside’ are Genji 201 (GOAL) and Genji 279
10 Broadly speaking, these verb concatenations have an asymmetrical morphological distribution in
early CJ: in concatenations with other motion verbs, both possible orders of elements are found
with YUKU, thus sugi yuku ‘pass and go’ or yuki sugu ‘go and pass’, but KU does not occur as first
element. The first verb can have -TE attached and denote a closed event, e.g. verb+-TE YUKU or
verb+-TE KU.
11 Kondô (1984) observes that MJ (-TE) YUKU and (-TE) KU(RU) constructions are essentially
already present in Man’yôshû (8th c. anthology of poetry). There is no evidence in the present
sample for a grammaticalized construction -TE YUKU or -TE KU.
12 Typical verbs concatenating with YUKU are kure- ‘grow dark’; ake- ‘grow light’; wasure-
‘forget’; nari- ‘become’; are- ‘become desolate’; hare- ‘become finre (of weather)’; Such instances
of [−CONTROL] readings in Kagerô and Genji are 11 and 9, respectively.

As indicated in (5), in the case of CLOSED events, DIRECTIONALITY seems to be

regularly encoded by the two suffixes -NU and—TARI.13 This usage is consistent in
contexts where the deictic centre is clearly defined, that is, inside narrative discourse or
stretches of thought (i.e. quotative to-complements): -NU is SOURCE-oriented; -TARI
GOAL-oriented. Thus, motion verb+ -NU indicates that a movement, usually anterior to
the time of speech or thought, happened away from the place of the speech situation or
the speaker, and that this movement still has relevance, i.e. the subject of the event is not
present at the moment of speech or at any other temporal anchor points, e.g. (9) below:
(9) ‘Oya no ie kono yosari nan watari-NU’ to…
parent GEN house this night FOCUS cross-
(Genji, Hahakigi 151)
‘…saying that she has gone over to her
parents for the night.’

Conversely, motion verb+ -TARI indicates the relevance of the movement whose goal is
the deictic HERE and NOW, i.e. the subject of the event is present, e.g. (10) below:14
(10) kado o tataki-te ‘Kuramochi no miko
gate DO knock-GER Kuramochi APP prince
owashi-TARI’ to tsug-u. (Taketori 98)
exalted move-TARI QUOT announce-NON-
…knocking on the gate they announce
‘Prince Kuramochi has arrived.’

Instances of -TSU are always goal-oriented and therefore comparable to -TARI. -TSU,
rather than -TARI, seems to be used when the speaker announces his own recent arrival
Subject, voice and ergativity 146

after a journey which he assumes is either unknown to, or unexpected by, the listener.15
Where -TARI will often be used in reply to a question as to whether someone is there or
not, -TSU is used to explain why or how the event of the motion came about. (11) is the
only example from the Genji Monogatari sample:
(11) “Iza tamae. Miya no on-tsukai ni-te
now exalted come-IMP prince GEN PRE-
messenger COP-GER
mairi ki-TSURU zo” to.. (Genji,
Wakamurasaki 328)
humbly move and come-TSU FOCUS
(Genji to Murasaki:) “Come! I have come
here as the messenger from the Prince.”

13 Suzuki (1991) reaches similar conclusions.

14 The statistics for Taketori Monogatari are 3 instances of -NU and 5 of -TARI; for Kagerô Nikki,
8 instances of -NU and 3 instances of -TARI; and finally, for the Genji Monogatari, 25 and 6,
15 With 4 instances in Taketori Monogatari vs. 6 in Kagerô Nikki and 1 instance in the sample
from Genji Monogatari, -TSU appears well entrenched in the contemporary language. These results
are also corroborated by Suzuki (1991), who interprets the distinction between -TU and -TARI/-RI
along the aspectual lines, perfective aspect vs. perfect.

An almost equally clear-cut distinction obtains inside complex sentences, when the
movement of the subordinate clause denotes a motion which is closed prior to the event
of the main clause. Presumably in such constructions, the events are given relative
importance, in such a way that the location of event(s) of the main clause is the centre to
which the event of the subordinate clause must be related: -NU takes the location of the
main clause as source, while -TARI takes it as goal. Some examples:16
(12) kô kotokata ni iri tamai-NURE ba,
thus odd direction LOC move into-EXALT-
kokoro mo e-zu…omoi-keru hodo ni…
heart-INCLU obtain-NEG ‘think-EVID
while LOC
(Genji, Suetsumuhana 345)
‘as he (=Genji) had entered (=gone off into)
such an unexpected place, he (Tô no Chûjô)
was evidently puzzled, and during this
(13) ue wa mi-uchiwa no hito meshi-te,
emperor EXCLU PRE-dresser COP person
idesase tamai-NURU hodo ni, mata hito mo
move out-CAUS-EXALT-NU while LOC
again person INCLU
naku-te,.. (Genji, Momiji no ga 408)
be not-GER
‘While the emperor, summoning the
dressers, had left the room, there was
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 147

nobody else and…’

(14) Nijôin ni owasi-TARE ba, Murasakino kimi
Nijôin LOC exalted move-TARI COND
Murasaki COP lady
ito mo utukushi-ki kataoi ni-te,…(Genji,
Suetsumuhana 378)
very INCLU sweet-ATTR childishness
‘As he came to Nijôin, Murasaki in her
sweet childishness…’

Elsewhere, considerations of wider narrative structures seem to determine the usage of -

NU and -TARI. Broadly speaking, -TARI refers the goal of the motion to what follows,
which thereby appears as the relevant narrative anchor point. -NU, conversely, refers the
source of the motion to the setting of what precedes, and as such it can indicate a
narrative break to what follows. Notably, the goal of the motion in this case is
undetermined; it may or may not be identical to the setting for

16 There is 1 instance of-NU and 2 of -TARI in Taketori Monogatari, 9 instances of -NU and 31 of
-TARI in Kagerô Nikki. For the sample from Genji Monogatari, the instances are 9 and 12
respectively. Mention must also be made of one instance of idenitaru hodo ni…‘Once while he was
out…’ (Kagerô Nikki 18:4) with the combination of -NU and -TARI (cf. Takeuchi 1987:60f),
where only -NU(RU) was to be expected. Furthermore, there are no instances of -NU and 5
instances of -TARI inside complements and relative clauses in Kagerô Nikki. For Genji
Monogatari, the numbers are 2 and 7 respectively.

what follows. In a typical instance of -NU, a character decides to leave a place. This is
expressed by the verb izu without any suffixes, while the actual departure, often
subsequent to lengthy preparations, is expressed by ide-NU. In the course of events, the
motion may or may not appear inevitable and beyond the will of the subject.
The difference between -NU and -TARI is brought out in the following pair of
examples from Genji Monogatari. In (15), as commonly in this work, a motion verb + -
TARI is used in introductory frames to indicate Genji’s proceeding to where a central
scene takes place.
(15) Niwaka ni makade-tamô mane shi-te,
suddenly humbly go out-EXALT-ATTR
pretence do-GER
michi no hodo yori owashimashi-TARI.
(Genji, Hahakigi 185)
way GEN while over exalted move-TARI
Pretending that he is to leave court urgently,
he goes (to the house of the Governor of Iyo)
on the way.

The setting in (16) is similar, only here Genji is not acting of his own accord, but is more
or less dragged along by his father-in-law from a party to the latter’s home:
(16) Otodo, yo ni iri-te makade-tamô ni,
minister, evening LOC enter-GER humbly
go out-EXALT LOC
Subject, voice and ergativity 148

hik-are-tatematsuri-te, ôdono ni
pull-PASS-DEPREC-GER residence LOC
exalted move-NU
(Genji, Suetsumuhana 360)
In the evening when the minister decides to
leave court, Genji is dragged along and goes
to the minister’s residence.

In sum, there is a systematic parallel usage of -TARI and -NU after motion verbs:17 inside
narrative discourse or thought, -NU and -TARI indicate CLOSED and mostly anterior
events whose result is still valid at the time of speech or thought, with -TSU representing
a GOAL-oriented motion in the recent past (cf. below). Inside narrative description, -NU
and -TARI, but not -TSU, denote motions CLOSED on the aspect locus of the story
line.18 The occurrence with motion verbs might even be conjectured as the starting point
for the generalization of perfect -TARI as MJ perfective aspect/past -TA, but more
research is needed to

17 The combination of -NU and -TARI, -NITARI, occurs mostly in 11th–12th c. texts. In a
somewhat larger sample (Takeuchi 1987:59ff) the combination was found to be all but non-existent
after motion verbs. However, there are a couple of instances of goal-orientation in Kagerô Nikki in
questions, such as “has (not) he come (yet)?” (173.1; 202.11; 210.2) together with a few instances
of verbs denoting passive/limited control events.
18 This then bears out Ikeda’s (1975:95) observation that -TARI too can indicate “the completion
of an action or process”, i.e. have perfective aspect function (‘perfect’ in Ikeda’s terminology),
along with its perfect function (“…the continuous effect of a completed action or process as in the
English perfect tense (has come…te iru, te aru).” Ikeda does not offer suggestions as to how -TARI
is distinct from -NU and -TSU. Lewin attributes only perfect function to -TARI in CJ proper,
although he reckons that it acquired ‘aspect-neutral preterite’ meaning during the 14–16th

substantiate this point.

1.3 Recent past tense

Inside discourse or stretches of thought (to-complements) and other embeddings, i.e. in
the same environment in which it has been seen to be GOAL-oriented with verbs of
motion, -TSU after all other verbs is regularly interpreted as a RECENT PAST. By this is
meant that the events referred to are perceived to have ended on the same day, not more
than 24 hours earlier. One example of a stretch of narrative discourse is seen in (17), in
which one of Genji’s servants reports back on events which he has just observed:
(17) “Tadaima, kita no jin yori, kanete yori
kakure tachi-te
just now north GEN guard ABL before ABL
hide and stand-GER
haberi-TSURU kuruma-domo makari
polite be-TSU-ATTRIB carriage-PLUR take
leave and
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 149

izuru. On-katagata no satobito

move out-NON-PAST PRE-persons GEN
people at home
haberi-TSURU naka ni, shii no shôshô,
polite be-TSU-ATTRIB among LOC 4th
rank GEN lieutenant,
uchûben-nado isogi ide-te, okuri shi
uchûben -etc. hurry and move out-GER
sending off do
haberi-TSURU ya Kokiden no on-akare
nara-n to
polite be-TSU QU Kokiden GEN PRE-
relation COP-TENT QUOT
mi-tamae-TSURU. Keshû wa ara-nu
kehai-domo siruku-te, kuruma mitsu bakari
appearance-PLUR evident-GER carriage
haberi-TSU” to
polite be-TSU QUOT
(Genji, Hana no en 429–30)

‘The carriages, which were hidden from view earlier on, are now leaving
the palace. The lieutenant of the 4th rank and the Middle Secretary of the
right hurried out to see her off, mingling with some people from her home
who were there. I could tell that she is probably a relation of Empress
Kokiden. The appearance of everything was evidently not bad; there were
about three carriages.’

-TSU is used extensively in all predicates of this passage. As a tense, -TSU shares a
number of characteristics with the other two CJ narrative categories, past -KI and
evidential -KERI: (i) -TSU can denote an OPEN (imperfective aspect) event. That is,
verbs with -TSU do not order events in strict sequential order on the story line, but allow
for overlap with what follows, e.g. the events of the two haberiTSU in (17) overlap); (ii) -
TSU is lexically unrestricted, i.e., it occurs after all verbs including stative verbs, such as
ari or haberi, both ‘exist, to be at’ (e.g. haberiTSU in (17)); (iii) -TSU is used in
reference to multiple and/or habitual events, e.g. arikitsuru in (18) denotes a past habitual
event discontinued by the exile of the dog Okinamaro just now:
(18) ‘Aware, imijû yurugi ariki-TSURU mono
‘Alas a lot roam and walk-TSU-ATTR-thing
(Makura 7)19
‘Alas! He would roam around so happily’

Note also that the predicate with -TSU can be negative as in (19):
(19) …toshigoro kakete omow-azari-TSURU
Subject, voice and ergativity 150

several years over-GER think of-NEG-TSU-

mukashi omoiide-rare-te,..
(Utsubo Monogatari,20 Ume no hanakasa
past remember-PASS-GER…293)
‘…he cannot help remembering the past, to
which he has given no thoughts for years,

1.4 Control
As noted above, the DIRECTIONALITY distinction could be neutralized when the event
denoted by the verb was beyond the control of the subject, in which case -NU occurred.
There is, in fact, a case for considering the dominance of CONTROL on a wider
pragmatic contextual level. Thus, the apparent lexico-semantic distinction between -TSU
and -NU inside narrative description (cf. 1.1 above) can also be neutralized by -NU,
whenever the course of the event goes against the wishes of the speaker or of the person
whose viewpoint dominates at a given point of the narrative, or else when the event is
carried out under orders. Thus, polite accounts of first person actions tend to favour -NU.
This usage is evident in the occurrence of -NU in predicates which contain haberi the
deprecatory-polite auxiliary verb. With verbs of control, such as most transitive verbs, the
function of -NU is presumably to indicate the submission of the speaker’s will to that of
the addressee. Examples (20) and (21) show contrastive examples of -TSU and -NU:
(20) ‘Shini-kere-ba, jin no soto ni
die-EVID-COND, palace ground GEN
outside LOC
hiki sute-TSU’ to.. (Makura 7)
pull and throw away-TSU QUOT
‘Evidently it died, and so they dragged it
(the dog) outside the palace ground and
threw it away.’

19 Makura no sôshi, ed. by Matsuo Satoshi. Shôgakukan: Tôkyô 1974 (=Nihon koten bungaku
zenshû 11)
20 Utsubo Monogatari. Vol. 1. ed. by Kôno Tama. Iwanami Shoten: Tôkyô 1959 (=Nihon koten
bungaku taikei 10)
(21) ‘“…Sore wa uchi koroshi-te sute-haberi-
NU” to
that EXCLU intently kill-GER throw away-
koso môshi-TSU RE.’ (Makura 7)
-CONTR FOCUS humbly say-TSU…’
‘They said (to the Emperor) that they had
killed it and thrown it away, but…’

(20) is the servant’s report to the author, as she is concerned for the dog. -TSU correctly
places the event of hiki sute- ‘drag and throw away’ which took place earlier the same
day. The setting of (21) is more complex. The speaker, Lady Ukon, is referring to a report
she heard earlier the same day, hence -TSU in môshiTSURE ‘they said’. The polite verb
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 151

haberi suggests that sute haberiNU might be a verbatim rendering of what the servants
told the Emperor when they reported that they had carried out the imperial order.
(22) and (23) are additional examples. In (22) a priest of a temple reports to the author
that the sutras have been recited, as she had requested:
(22) ‘Ito yoku môshi-haberi-NU.’ (Makura)
very well humbly say-POLITE-NU
‘We have recited all well.’
(23) ‘Kokora no yowai ni-te, meiô no
this much GEN age COP-GER illustrious
mi-yo shidai o nan mi-haberi-NURE-DO,…’
PRE-four reigns DO FOCUS see-POLITE-
(Genji, Hana no en 432)
“..although I have lived to this age and have
witnessed four reigns of illustrious

DIRECTIONALITY, too, can apparently be dominated by CONTROL, as in the

following example of -NU from Kagerô Nikki:21
(24) “Oon-kaeri mo kikoe-de kaeri-NURU.”
PRE-return-INCLU humbly hear-NEG GER
(Kagerô 198)
(Michitsuna speaking to his mother:) “I
returned/had to return home (=here) without
hearing his reply.”

Inside other embeddings, -NU may be used when an experiencer ((always) coreferential
with the subject of the upper clause?) has only limited control over an anterior or recent
past event. For instance, (25) is a neutral description of the shooting of the male bird,
which in (26) is experienced from the point of view of the female bird:

21 Other instances in the sample are Kagerô 137 and 106 and Genji 292 and 327.
(25) otoko kore-o iru ni, odori o i-TSU.
man this-DO shoot at LOC, male bird DO
(Konjaku 19.6)22
…, as the man is shooting at the birds, he
shoots the male bird.
(26) medori no, odori no koroshi-NURU o mi-
female bird-SUBJ male bird-GEN kill-NU-
(Konjaku 19.6)
the female bird looks at the male bird he (the
man) killed…
Subject, voice and ergativity 152

(25) and (26) bring out the contrast well, but compared to the sample texts, they are
admittedly late occurrences (Konjaku Monogatari was compiled in the late 12th c.).
There is some evidence that the following centuries may have seen an increase in the use
of [−CONTROL] -NU.23

2. Modern Standard Japanese

In the following, the MJ -TE KURU/YUKU constructions are considered briefly. Among
the MJ verbs of motion, KURU ‘come’ and IKU ‘go’ are special by virtue of being
deictic categories.24 By and large, “kuru is used for a motion toward the place where the
speaker is (or was or will be), and iku, for a motion from the speaker.” (Soga 1983:171–
2).25 For example:
(27) Itsu KU-RU no? ‘When are you
when COME-NON- coming?’
(28) Sugu IK-U. ‘I will be with you in a
at once GO-NON- minute.’

The directional relation is not limited to the speech situation, but broadly, the choice of
KURU and IKU is governed by the viewpoint of the speaker, which can relate to settings
inside a narrative, etc. (29) and (30) are straightforward cases of spatial movement in
conjoined verbs:
(29) Gohan o tabe-te KI-TA.
‘I have/He has eaten before coming/already.’
(30) Gohan o tabe-te IT-TA.
food DO eat-GER GO-PAST
‘I/He ate and went.’
*I/He began to eat.

22 Konjaku Monogatarishû. vol. 4. 1962. ed. by Yamada Yoshio et al. Iwanami Shoten: Tôkyô
(=Nihon koten bungaku taikei 25)
23 Examples where normally volitional verbs construct with -NU when the event they denote is
carried out under orders, are found quite commonly in Towazugatari (completed 1313) (Takeuchi
1987:143). This could also be related to the character of the text, i.e. in a nikki (diary), -NU might
be expected to be more frequent than in a monogatari (tale, romance).
24 Or indexical symbols, Jakobson 1971:132.
25 This account is largely based on Soga, but cf. also Martin 1975:536ff and Kondô 1984.

It is noteworthy that in an utterance the event with -TE KITA in (29) can typically be
interpreted as closed in the recent past prior to the speech situation or to any other
dominant narrative point in time. That is, the event taberu ‘eat’ reaches the relevant
closure in the recent past, and can be fitted into a frame such as chôdo_‘just…’.
Comparing CJ -TSU to the MJ directional constructions, it is of some interest to note that
the same combination of goal-orientation and recent past (discernible in examples such as
(11)) is at least implicitly present in MJ perfective-past -TE KITA constructions.
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 153

In another typical function, KURU and IKU rather define an event as intrinsically
gradual26 or ingressive. The event may be repeated or multiple:
(31) Giseisha ga dandan shin-de YUK-U.
victims SUBJ gradually die-GER GO-NON-
The victims are gradually going to die.

Or it can be a single event:

(32) Gasorin ga dandan naku nat-te KI-TA.
petrol SUBJ gradually become used up-GER
Petrol gradually began to get scarce.
(33) Gasorin ga dandan naku nat-te IT-TA.27
petrol SUBJ gradually become used up-GER
Petrol gradually began to get scarce (from
then on).

When the event is single, the ingressive or continuous interpretation is lexically restricted
to verbs which are [+process], i.e. events which involve “gradual appearance or
disappearance of something, or continuous development, or changing events or actions
from one stage to another requiring a certain amount of time before completion.” (Soga
1983:111). The event denoted by the verb must also be “[-self-controllable]” (ibid: 171–
82), as for instance wasureru ‘forget’:
(34) Eigo o dandan wasure-te KI-TA.
English DO gradually forget-GER COME-
I have gradually forgotten English.

In sum, the MJ concatenations with the motion verbs KURU and YUKU constitute a
deictic spatio-temporal perspective, which can relate to the speaker or to a narrative
setting. In two respects, MJ recalls CJ: by implication of the spatio-temporal perspective,
-TE KITA often situates (the closure of) the event in the recent past, cf. the collusion of
GOAL-orientation and RECENT PAST in CJ -TSU. Secondly, the interpretation of an
event as gradual is available only with verbs which denote a non-self-controllable
process. The contrast with CJ in the latter instance is that

26 Martin 1975 uses the term “continuation”.

27 Examples from Soga 1983:172–3.

in CJ [−CONTROL] was expressed by the SOURCE-oriented verb only. I have no

explanation for that discrepancy at the moment.
Subject, voice and ergativity 154

3. Conclusion

It was shown that the lexical class of motion verbs constituted a context in which
CLOSURE in combination with DIRECTIONALITY determined the occurrence of the
CJ aspect suffixes. The basic directional opposition between -NU [SOURCE] and -TARI
[GOAL] was, however, neutralized, if the motion was predetermined, i.e. [−CONTROL],
in which case -NU was used regardless of the direction of the motion. This means that the
use of -NU exhibited a systematic vagueness with respect to the features CONTROL and
Inasmuch as -NU is traditionally related to a motion verb inu ‘go away’,28
DIRECTIONALITY would seem to be fundamental to an understanding of the CJ aspect
system, even if suggesting itaru ‘reach’ as the etymology for -TSU and -TARI may seem
far-fetched.29 In any case, DIRECTIONALITY does lend support for the cognate
relationship between -TARI and -TSU, since -TSU, like -TARI, must be interpreted as
[GOAL], and more specifically RECENT PAST, inside narrative discourse and other
All in all, there is in my view sufficient evidence to consider to what extent other
usages of the CJ aspect suffixes might be explicable in the terms of DIRECTIONALITY
The most obvious case is the RECENT PAST -TSU inside narrative discourse and other
(more obvious) to-embeddings. The assumption that the collusion of the features
[+GOAL] and [+CLOSURE] gave rise to a RECENT PAST tense is, of course, attested
in many other languages. Inside Japanese, it seems to be corroborated among other things
by the hypothesis that -TSU, being a CJ vowel stem, was possibly derived from an older
perfective.31 It is probable that since CJ -TSU, like other narrative tenses in CJ, was
neutral for CLOSURE, its derived cognate -TARI developed a complementary function
[+CLOSURE, +CONTROL], contrasting with -NU [+ CLOSURE, −CONTROL] inside
narrative discourse.
The distinction between -TSU and -NU after verbs other than motion verbs inside
narrative description has usually been explained by the semantics of the verbs, viz. the
lexical subcategorization of -TSU and -NU, where the only relevant parameter was
CONTROL, and as shown above, -NU seems, in fact, explicable in terms of
[−CONTROL] on a more general semantic-pragmatic level. The relation between
[SOURCE] and

28 E.g. Hashimoto 1969:358.

29 See Takeuchi 1987:228. For other etymologies, see Hashimoto 1969:366.
30 Cf. also the fact that the clause conjoining construction -TE noti ‘after’, where -TE is generally
thought to be cognate with the conjunctional form of -TSU, is generally to be interpreted as GOAL-
oriented (Takeuchi 1987:227).
31 The etymological perfective character of -TSU (Wenck 1976–77) presumably distinguishes it
from -NU, which incidentally has sometimes been observed to require an [OPEN] interpretaion,
e.g. Suzuki 1991.

[−CONTROL] as evidenced in the overall occurrence of -NU is perhaps not as obvious as

[GOAL] and [RECENT PAST] in the case of -TSU. Even so, focus on the progression
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 155

from a source of action may have given rise to an interpretation of the event denoted by
the verb with -NU as predetermined and hence beyond control (cf. (3)–(4) above). This
leaves the occurrence of -TSU [+CONTROL] after transitive verbs inside the so-called
lexical subcategorization in narrative description, which remains difficult to explain. It
might be understood as an innovation secondary to interpretation of -NU as
[−CONTROL], but there is scope for elucidation on this point.
Evidence was also presented for a distinct DIRECTIONALITY system in CJ formed
by concatenations with KU or YUKU. The aspectual character was mainly OPEN
(imperfective), and in that sense, it can be said to be complementary to the above
CLOSED (perfective/perfect) system. (35) contrasts CJ and MJ:


(attaching to (attaching to
conjunctional form) gerund)

The OPEN categories are crucial to an understanding of post-CJ developments: the

formal similarities to the MJ directional constructions are striking, and the CJ system
evidently provided the innovative forms in the innovations leading to MJ. In MJ, there is
a straightforward, one-to-one relationship between signata (content) and signantia
(expression): [GOAL]: -TE KU/I-; [SOURCE]: -TE IK/T; [−CLOSURE]: -(R)U;
[+CLOSURE] : -TA. In CJ, however, -TARI and -NU have complex signata:
dominates in the sense that [−CONTROL] invariably selects -NU. In MJ, however,
DIRECTIONALITY dominates CONTROL, cf. (32) and (33) above.
The data of the present sample seem to allow a few conjectures about ongoing
innovations in CJ. As mentioned above, CJ -NU was indeterminate for
CONTROL/DIRECTIONALITY, as CONTROL would override or dominate
considerations of DIRECTIONALITY. This being the case, -NU conceivably became
interpreted (predominantly) as [−CONTROL]. At the same time, the semantic collusion
of [SOURCE] with [−CONTROL]—in fact, the dominance of the latter—was extended
to the OPEN aspect, as the limited control function with one or two exceptions appears to
be restricted to concatenation with YUKU.32
In turn, the identification of -NU with [−CONTROL] may have caused a
reinterpretation of the denotation of -TARI towards the dominance of [+CONTROL]
over [+GOAL], and if so, it is at least conceivable that the open (imperfective) aspect
system acted as a semantically solidary paradigm (Andersen 1980:17), towards
maintaining the DIRECTIONALITY opposition. Indeed, the OPEN system could provide
an innovative form, yukitari/ikitari, which would be interpretable as unequivocally
Subject, voice and ergativity 156

A good deal of detailed research into a wider range of texts and into the language of
the intervening centuries between CJ and MJ is obviously necessary in order definitively
to establish the developments involved.

32 Conceivably, the development in CJ of the dominance of [−CONTROL] over [SOURCE] was

preceded by the shift of-TSU from [GOAL] to [RECENT PAST] notably characterized as
[+/−CLOSURE]. It is a topic for further research.


Andersen, Henning. 1980. ‘Morphological change: towards a typology’, Historical Morphology.

J.Fisiak (ed.). The Hague: Mouton, 1–50.
Delancey, Scott. 1985. ‘The analysis-synthesis-lexis cycle in Tibeto-Burman: a case study in
motivated change’, in Iconicity in syntax. J.Haiman (ed.). Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John
Benjamins, 367–89.
Foley, William A. & Robert D.Van Valin. 1984. Functional syntax and universal grammar.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hashimoto, Shinkichi. 1969. Joshi, no . Tôkyô: Iwanami shoten.
Hopper, Paul J., and Sandra A.Thompson. 1980. ‘Transitivity in grammar and discourse’,Language
Ikeda, Tadashi. 1975. Classical Japanese grammar illustrated with texts. Tokyo: Toho gakkai.
Jakobson, Roman (1957) 1971. ‘Shifters, verbal categories and the Russian verb’, Selected
writings, vol. 2:130–47. The Hague: Mouton.
Kendô, Yasuhiro. 1984. ‘Hojodôshi [te yuku] [te kuru] no yôhô: shiten no hojodôshi no kenkyû
josetsu’, Nihon joshi daigaku kiyô 34:25–34.
Lewin, Bruno. 1990. der japanischen Grammatik. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Martin, Samuel. 1978. A reference grammar of Japanese. New Haven and London: Yale
University Press.
Sandness, Karen. 1982. ‘The evolution of the Japanese past and perfective suffixes in the
Kamakura and Muromati periods’. Ph.D. dissertation. Yale University.
Smith, N.V. 1990. ‘Observations on the pragmatics of tense’, UCL working papers in linguistics
Soga, Matsuo. 1976–77. ‘The pragmatics of kuru and iku’. Papers in Japanese Linguistics 5:279–
Soga, Matsuo. 1983. Tense and aspect in Modern Colloquial Japanese. Vancouver: Univ. of
British Columbia Press.
Suzuki, Tai. 1991. ‘Kanryô no jodôshi no asupekuto-teki imi: Genji monogatari no idô- utsushikae-
dôshi no baai’, Kokugogaku 165:67–80.
Takeuchi, Lone. 1987. A study of tense and aspect in Classical Japanese. Copenhagen: Akademisk
Timberlake, Alan. 1982. ‘Invariance and the syntax of Russian aspect’. In Paul J.Hopper (ed.)
Tense-aspect: Between semantics & pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 305–331.
Wenck, Guenther. 1976–77. ‘On the reconstruction of a proto-Japanese verb inflection system’,
Papers in Japanese Linguistics 5:393–407.
List of abbreviations:
ABL ablative
ADV adverb
ATTR attributive
Aspect, directionality and control in japanese 157

COND conditional
CONTR contrastive
COP copula
DEPREC deprecatory auxiliary
DO direct object
EVID evidential
EXALT exalted auxiliary
EXCLAM exclamative
EXCLU exclusive
GEN genitive
GER gerund
IMP imperative
INCLU inclusive
IO indirect object
LOC locative
NEG negative
PASS passive
PLUR plural
PRE exalted prefix
PROH prohibitive
QU question
QUOT quotation
SUBJ subject
Paz Buenaventura Naylor

1. Introduction

The notion ‘subject’ has so long been part and parcel of the traditions of linguistic
scholarship that its meaning has been taken for granted and its universality has come to
be assumed. More recently, however, discussions of subject and its universality do
recognize rather tacitly that there are languages in which the notion of subject may not be
applicable. Hence, statements of the universality of subject have more recently been
rephrased to say that in languages that do have ‘subject’ the stated universal properties
are universally applicable. From this we can infer that there are languages that may not
have subject as an essential component of clause syntax and that subject itself as a
grammatical category is not an absolute universal. What has remained clouded by
controversy is whether or not in certain languages, e.g. Tagalog and other Philippine
languages, the NP that is the target of predication is analyzable as ‘subject’ or as (clause
level) ‘topic’.
In the literature, subject in the unmarked clause has been defined as the intersection of
topic and agent, marked by the nominative, and characterized by certain syntactic
properties (e.g. Keenan 1976b, Comrie 1981). Such a definition does not altogether hold
for the constituent of Tagalog predications that realizes the topic function, i.e. the
constituent “that the sentence is about”. There are more sentence types in which topic
coincides with non-agent in the putative subject (which in Tagalog is most often coded by
the ang-phrase); there are many sentence types that do not have a nominative NP (marked
by ang); and the characteristic syntactic behaviour of subject does not hold for the
putative subject ang-phrase.
Although in subject-prominent languages like English, the topic is usually the subject,
we may not in principle subsume topic under subject, and the definition of subject must
not simply appropriate the notion of topic without further ado. Topic is a discourse
function realized at various levels of structure. Although in languages like English topic
function is typically coded in clause syntax as subject, topic and subject are nonetheless
separate entities and must be described as such in order to account for languages that
depart from the English model. However, once the pragmatic function of topic and the
semantic function of agent are isolated as distinct concepts in themselves, what remains
are the syntactic and morphological properties of subject and it is precisely in terms of
these properties that languages such as Tagalog depart significantly enough from the
English model to render the notion of subject as an essential component of clause syntax
unviable in such languages.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 159

In the grammar of different languages or language types, it is not necessarily the same
function that is grammaticized nor is the same function necessarily grammaticized in the
same way and the primary grammatical distinctions marked by the morphosyntax may be
differently motivated. Thus, sentence constituents cannot be adequately described
without reference to their global as well as local system relations and the over-all
structural characteristics of the language as a whole.
The debate over “subject or topic?” in Tagalog must therefore be argued within as
well as beyond clause syntax and within the framework of its overall structure.1
The syntax of Tagalog predications is based on nominal relations rather than verbal
relations and the type of predication is attributive rather than predicational. This is
because the verbal word, as Lopez (1928, 1941) pointed out, is not a “real verb” but only
a “quasi-verb”; Tagalog “verbs” are in fact nomina actionis. (This will be further
discussed below, section 3.4; see also section 3.12 for some discussion of the genitive.)
Bloomfield (1933:200) also said of Tagalog:

In Tagalog, the parts of speech are, again, full word and particle, but here
the full words are subdivided into two classes which we may call static
and transient. The latter resemble our verbs in forming a special kind of
predicate (the narrative type with four subtypes, Sec. 11.2) and in showing
morphologic distinctions of tense and mode, but they differ from our
verbs because, on the one hand, they are not restricted to the function of
predicate and, on the other hand, there exist non-narrative predicates,
[italics mine—PBN]

As we can see, Bloomfield perceives the Tagalog verbal word as constituting, along with
nouns, two classes of the same category: static and transient classes of full words. He also
describes the Tagalog verbal word as resembling yet differing from English verbs.
While all languages must have a way of referring to things and to actions, their ways
of referring are not necessarily always grammaticized as ‘nouns’ and ‘verbs’. (Givon
(1979) perceptively refers to the pre-grammaticalized “verb” as “verbal word”.) Thus, in
line with Lopez’s observations as well as Bloomfield’s perceptions, we will argue (and
the examples below should show) that in Tagalog, verbal predicates are not grammatical
verbs. If this is so, then given that subject (and object) are relations between nouns and
their associated verb, the syntactic notions of subject and object would be irrelevant to a
system that did not have the grammatical category verb.
Sentence syntax would thus be atransitive and at least syntactically speaking,
transitivity relations would not apply; instead, syntactically attributive relations would
apply. (This is argued in greater detail in Naylor (1979).) All this, in turn, would radically
alter our perception of

1 Universal statements about subject may well be tenable for Tagalog but they can only apply
anecdotally and not with reference to the internal structure of the language (“etically” but not
“emicaily”—to use Pikean terms).

the voice system and the discourse dynamics of Tagalog (cf. Shibatani 1988b and Hopper
and Thompson 1980).2
Subject, voice and ergativity 160

As the title shows, it is not my aim in this paper to present a full account of the
nominal syntax and the attributive nature of Tagalog predications, “verbal” as well as
“nonverbal”. (This topic will be treated in more depth in Nay lor (forthcoming).)
However, since I do propose that subject (and object), as verb-based syntactic relations,
do not apply in principle to the syntax of Tagalog predications, since its “verbs” are really
nomina actionis, then some idea of the Tagalog system of predication must be given here.
To this end, a sketch of Tagalog sentence structure with particular emphasis on “verbal”
predications will be presented.
This sketch and the examples given in it are intended to be not merely expository; they
are meant, in and of themselves, to provide illustration of and evidence for the nominal
syntax of Tagalog predications.
Although demonstrating that Tagalog “verbal” predications are syntactically nominal
should be sufficient argument against the applicability of the notions ‘subject’ (and
‘object’) to the Tagalog system of predication, the purported syntactic behavioural
properties of the putative subject ang-NP that have been offered as evidence for its
subjecthood will nonetheless be dealt with in the discussion below (sections 4.11, 4.12).
On the basis of this paper, we conclude that the NP that serves as the target of
predication in Tagalog is more appropriately analyzed as clause-level topic than as
subject. We can then also infer that Tagalog is topic prominent. Without a grammatical
verb, subject and object, and with the nominal syntax of its predications, certain
implications for our perception of the Tagalog voice system are bound to arise. These are
pointed out at the end of this paper, with some discussion and suggestions for future

2. Preliminaries

2.1 The Notion of Subject

Keenan (1976b) defines subject without explicitly making the distinctions between its
components while subsuming all the functions that others (e.g. Halliday) saw as conflated
in the subject in English. He proposes a universal definition of subject in terms of a
number of diagnostic properties, such that the notion would be applicable universally but
in varying degrees. The more of such properties an NP exhibited, the more subjectlike it
would be and, conversely, the fewer such properties it exhibited the less subjectlike it
would be. He did not, however, state what the lower limits would be: what is the smallest
number of subject properties that an NP should exhibit for it to be considered a subject?

2 That Tagalog predications are syntactically nominal gains support from the hypothesis of
Starosta, Pawley, and Reid (1982) that Proto-Austronesian had nominal predicates, although they
maintain that in the modem languages, the shift to verbal predicates is evident. (They also maintain
that subject is sufficiently well defined in Philippine languages.)

Would one or two be sufficient? At which point can it no longer be considered a subject?
Keenan proposes something like 32 properties. While they are not all syntactic, since
they include such features as topic function, most of them are related to morphological
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 161

marking and syntactic behaviour. In the list of guideline criteria for distinguishing topic
from subject in Li and Thompson (1976), too, those proposed for characterizing subject
are also mainly, if not entirely, based on morphologic/syntactic parameters.
In one of the more detailed treatments of subject, particularly as a linguistic universal,
Comrie (1981) defines it as essentially the intersection of topic and agent. He proposes a
prototype analysis in which the prototypical subject would show this intersection of topic
and agent and other syntactic behavioural properties attributable to subject. As in Keenan
above, NPs with fewer subject properties would then be viewed as being lower in the
continuum and analyzed as being less subjectlike than the prototype. Thus in
(syntactically) ergative languages, the subject of transitive clauses in which subject is the
intersection of topic and patient, would represent a lower degree of subjecthood. As in
Keenan’s definition, it is not clear at which point an NP ceases to be a subject—even of
the lowest degree.
Treatments of subject from a functional theoretical perspective include Halliday’s
(1967–68, 1970), Givon’s (1979, 1983a), Dik’s (1978, 1989), and Foley and Van Valin’s
(1984). Givon shows subject to be a grammaticalized topic. Dik (1989) points out that
subject is not a category but a function. He also describes subject as subsuming topic and
focus functions. With the view of subject as a function, its realization may be coded by
different but interrelated syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic categories in different
Dixon (1979) uses the term ‘pivot’ to refer to the function of the NP which represents
the intersection of subject with either agent or patient. Foley and Van Valin (1984)
similarly maintain that the Tagalog ang-NP in semantically transitive sentences functions
as a ‘pivot’.3

2.11 Syntactic subject properties

All the above treatments of subject emphasize that subject is neither merely syntactic, nor
semantic, nor pragmatic; rather it represents the intersection of all these. Yet most of the
discussions treat syntactic relations and syntactic processes as diagnostic and definitive.
This probably reflects the fact, as pointed out earlier, that when the agent and topic
components are isolated from the subject complex, we are left with only the syntactic
properties, if we are to describe subject, not as topic nor as agent but as subject qua
Of the syntactic properties argued as diagnostic of subjecthood, linguists often allude
to subject-verb agreement, e.g. in person and number in English. In addition, control by
the subject NP of certain

3 They are among those who maintain that subject does not apply to Tagalog. See Foley and Van
Valin (1984).

syntactic processes such as quantifier-float, reflexivization, relativization, and

coreferential subject or Equi-NP deletion have been viewed as strongly and universally
diagnostic of subjecthood. As earlier pointed out, these will be discussed and shown not
to be diagnostic of subjecthood for the NP that is the target of predication in Tagalog
(usually the ang-NP).
Subject, voice and ergativity 162

2.2 The Notion of Topic

Topic has, like subject, been assumed to be self-explanatory. Topic is what the discussion
is about—the topic of discourse. Perhaps it is the topic component, one of the functions
subsumed in the subject NP, that accounts for the universality that may be claimed for
subject. It would seem that for communication to be at all possible, languages must have
some way of indicating what it is we are communicating about: the topic. Thus we can
say that all languages must operate with topics.
Topic is a discourse function, realized by the syntax at various levels of structure.
Although Givon (1983a) points out that topic is universally grammaticized in clause
syntax most strongly as subject, topic is not, however, always grammaticized as subject
in all languages nor in all the constructions of a given language.
There are well known treatments of the notion of topic in discourse, e.g. van Dijk
(1977), Givon (1983). I shall, however, focus my discussion on the notion of topic at
clause or sentence level, although it will soon be apparent that it is not possible to
describe topic in Tagalog without reference to levels of structure beyond the sentence.
Topic is defined by Halliday (1967–68) as a complex entity. It represents the
intersection of the ‘theme’—‘rheme’ and the ‘given’—‘new’ oppositions. This would
seem to explain why different kinds of topic occur, as Chafe (1976) points out (see
section 2.21).
The selection of a clause constituent to precede all others in the clause and to serve as
its ‘point of departure’ is what may be referred to as ‘thematization’. The theme, as the
topic of the clause in this sense, includes what Fillmore referred to as “secondary
topicalization” (1968:90) and what Longacre and his associates referred to as “sentence
topic” (Longacre: 1968, vol. 2:26ff.). This appears to be the basis for the notion of topic
as a clause-level constituent.
From the point of view of the given-new opposition, the topic-NP is given, at least in
the sense that its referent is recoverable or identifiable to the hearer from either the
immediate or remote context. This would explain why topics have definiteness as a
distinctive property. Linguists seem to agree on this point: while subjects tend to be
definite, they need not be, but topics must be definite to be topics at all. This also appears
to be the basis for its text-coherence function—a function at discourse level.

2.21 Types of Topic

Chafe (1976) distinguished different kinds of topic but he argued against the widely held
view that topicalization is defined by left dislocation or initial position. Indeed
topicalization should not be identified entirely with left dislocation even if this does
represent one form of topicalization. Chafe sees such initial phrases as “As for John,” in
English as encoding focus of contrast rather than topicalization although one could argue
that it does encode such topic functions as referentiality, point of departure and delimiting
the scope of the predication.
The kinds of topic that Chafe does recognize include the sentence-initial NPs in
Mandarin sentences of the kind ‘Those trees, leaves big’. He sees this kind of topic as
being different from other kinds of topic because it serves essentially to delimit the
applicability of the following main predication. Thus in Mandarin, topic is not so much
“what the sentence is about” as “the frame within which the sentence holds” (1976:50).
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 163

But it is what the sentence is about as well. Furthermore, it does serve as the theme—the
point of departure of the sentence.
Another kind of topic that Chafe discusses is what he calls “premature topic”, with
examples from Caddo (an American Indian language spoken in Oklahoma). For example,
sentences such as ‘Ducks, they said okay now’ and ‘Ms. Owl, it is said (hesitation form)
then she spilled it’ occur quite frequently and appear to be “normal” modes of expression
(for details, see Chafe 1976:52–53). Chafe sees these topics as being actually the results
of subject selection prior to the speaker’s determination of what the case frame and the
putative subject’s case role would be in the packaging of the main predication. (He even
entertains the idea that topics may have originated in this way.) In that these Caddo topics
appear to be the intersection of theme and given, as well as delimiter of the scope of the
predication, they appear to be no different in function from the Mandarin topic.
Chafe (1976:53) also describes what he refers to as “anti-topic” in the Seneca
language. In contrast to Caddo, the case frame is chosen prior to subject selection, which
occurs like an afterthought. The process is a mirror-image of what happens in Caddo.
What is interesting here is that in Tagalog too, ‘focus selection’, i.e. case frame
selection, occurs prior to subject/topic selection (cf. Ramos 1974, Naylor 1975).
Labelling the subject/topic an “anti-topic” when it occurs non-initially in the sentence,
implies that topic must always be sentence-initial. However, in Tagalog, a predicate-
initial language, this is not necessarily so, as will be discussed in section 5 below.

2.3 Subject versus Topic

Li and Thompson (1976:461–466) outlined the differences between subject and topic on
the basis of discourse strategy, noun-verb relations, and grammatical processes. To quote
(p. 466):

The subject has a minimal discourse function in contrast with the topic.
Hence, the topic but not necessarily the subject is discourse dependent,
serves as the center of attention of the sentence and must be definite. As
for noun-verb relations and grammatical processes, it is the subject rather
than the topic that figures prominently. Thus, subject is normally
determined by the verb, and is selectionally related to the verb; and the
subject often obligatorily controls verb agreement. These properties of the
subject are not shared by the topic. In conclusion, the topic is a discourse
notion, whereas the subject is to a greater extent a sentence-internal
notion. The former can be understood best in terms of the discourse and
extra-sentential considerations; the latter in terms of its function within
the sentence structure, [italics mine—PBN]

Furthermore, the functional role of the topic is constant across sentences while that of the
subject varies, i.e. it may provide the orientation of the action, experience or state denoted
by the verb or it may be semantically empty as when it functions as a “dummy subject”.
Li and Thompson also stated that some languages were subject prominent, some were
topic prominent, some were neither subject nor topic prominent and a few were both.
They then proposed a typology based on subject prominence vs. topic prominence.
Subject, voice and ergativity 164

Li and Thompson point to Philippine languages as an example of the type that is

neither subject prominent nor topic prominent, saying that “subject and topic have
merged in these languages and are no longer distinguishable in all sentence types”
(1976:459). Since no examples were provided nor any indications made as to the data on
which this judgment was made, it is not possible to tell if in fact all sentence types and
their distribution and function in discourse had been taken into account.

3. Tagalog Sentence Structure

In order to provide a basis for the exposition and the arguments that will be presented
shortly, I shall now present a brief description of Tagalog sentence structure with
examples that should illustrate and illuminate the discussion. The discussion of the
examples and the examples themselves are intended to show that, as mentioned earlier,
all Tagalog predication, “verbal” and “nonverbal”, is based on nominal syntactic relations
and is therefore attributive rather than transitive.4

3.1 Some notes on Tagalog morphology

3.11 Tagalog Words

Tagalog words consist of roots and affixes. The term ‘root’ is used here not in its
technical sense in the context of comparative-historical Austronesian linguistics (cf. Blust
1988) but in the sense of bare or affixless word. Some linguists use the term ‘stem’ to
refer to the wordbase,

4 Cf. Martinet’s theory of predication in which subject is first modifier and object is second
modifier (according to Claude Tchekoff (1976), p. c.).

which serves as the target of affixation, regardless of whether it has undergone previous
affixation or not.
Roots are syntactically neutral. While a root word does refer to a concept which may
be inherently a thing, an action, or a state, its syntactic function is uncoded until a
preposition or an affix is appended to it. For example, the root ganda refers to the concept
of beauty. When ang is preposed to ganda, the phrase ang ganda is in one kind of
nominal function—that which names an object, a nomen rei, and it means ‘beauty’5. With
the stative prefix ma-, maganda ‘beautiful’ functions as a modifier (literally ‘state of
beauty’6). With the infix -um-, gumanda is a verbal word meaning ‘to become beautiful’;
in its syntactic function it is another kind of nominal—that which names an action, a
nomen actionis. With the locative focus suffix -han, gandahan is also a verbal word
naming an action, a nomen actionis; but being in locative focus, its meaning is ‘to make
(something) beautiful’ (literally ‘locate beauty on [something]’).
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 165

3.12 Morphological Case Markers

Ang, nang (traditionally written ng), and sa are noun7 markers. As such, they mark broad
distinctions of case: namely, the nominative, genitive, and dative/locative, respectively.
Although ang is usually associated with the subject/topic NP and is usually described
as the subject/topic marker, it also functions as the predicate marker in “equational
sentences” (see section 3.7 below). It is clear that the marking of subject/topic is only one
of its functions, based on its primary function of naming, i.e. its nominative function.
Nang, written ng, (thought to be etymologically made up of na plus ang) is the
genitive marker. It marks the possessive as genitives usually do. Rather less usually, this
genitive marker also marks the ‘agent’ or ‘patient’ in semantically transitive sentences
whenever they are not “in focus” as the “topic” of the sentence, i.e. not the ang-NP. (This
will be discussed in more detail in section 3.4 below.)
Sa marks location in its broadest sense, in physical or psychological space and
subsuming directional meaning as either source or end location.

5 The translation of ang ganda as ‘the beauty’ should not be taken to mean that ang is here being
analyzed as a definite article, which the is in English. The is given here and in other translations or
transliterations of ang as a lexical-semantic equivalent, not as a syntactic equivalent.
Ang requires much more perceptive and further study than it has received in the literature to date.
As far as my analysis goes, ang codes nominative case and whatever other related functions may
ensue from the concept of nominative within Tagalog syntax.
6 In line with the view that Tagalog predication is attributive and therefore syntactically nominal,
stative words (prefixed with ma-), like all Tagalog predicates may also be considered nominal.
They appear to be the type of nominal that names a state, a nomen qualitatis.
7 To be comprehensible, we shall use the term ‘noun’ to refer to the normal word that refers to an
object (earlier referred to as nomen rei). We shall also use the term ‘verbal’ to refer to the nominal
word that refers to an action (earlier referred to as nomen or nomina actionis).

It has prepositional meaning; i.e. it translates into diverse prepositions of English or

Spanish, etc., so that the same Tagalog locative marker sa renders the meanings of such
prepositions as to, from, on, in, at. It should be noted, however, that while sa has
prepositional meaning, it is not syntactically prepositional within the Tagalog system. Sa-
phrases may not be likened to English prepositional phrases in terms of their syntactic
roles in sentence grammar. For example, in his analysis of sa-NPs within the theory of
Relational Grammar, Kroeger (1991) appears to consider them nonterms or chômeurs. In
Tagalog, however, sa-phrases are of equal “rank” as ang and ng-phrases and they are
therefore terms and not chômeurs.
For personal names, si, ni, and kay are used to mark the nominative, genitive, and
dative/locative, respectively, instead of ang, ng, and sa.

3.2 The Attributive Marker na

Attribution is realized in Tagalog at clause level by parataxis; it is thus marked by zero
and the attribute string may be said to be exocentric. At phrase level, it is realized
Subject, voice and ergativity 166

hypotactically, in which case the attributive relation is marked by na and the attribute
string may be said to be endocentric.
This marker is generally known in Tagalog grammar as the “linker”. Although the
origins of the Tagalog linker na can be traced to its Austronesian etymon8, its use as
linker of the modifier and the modified appears to be unusual, if not unique, even within
the Austronesian family. Thus in Tagalog, adjectives are “linked” to their nouns, adverbs
to their verbal words, and the relative string to its head noun by na.
For example, in the phrase, magandang babae, maganda ‘beautiful’ and babae
‘woman’ are “linked” by na (which changes to -ng and is cliticized after a word that ends
in a vowel). Similarly, the so-called relative clause, in its modifier function, is “linked” to
the noun it modifies by na. For example, in ang babaeng umupo ‘the woman who sat
down’ (literally, ‘the sat woman’), babae and umupo are “linked” together by -ng. (Thus
na umupo can be seen to be a relative phrase, rather than a clause, with babae as head of
the modification structure and umupo functioning as the modifier in exactly the same way
as maganda.)
It is clear, however, that while na serves to “link” modifier phrase constituents
together, its function is attributive9. The fact that na is the initial constituent of the
modifier string has often been overlooked in the light of its being thought of as being
nothing more than a mechanical linker. It is by no means an empty morph. It will be
shown below that the modifier string begins with the preposed na, whose function in fact
is to mark the modifier string as being in attributive relation to its head word.

8 See Foley (1976).

9 Apart from its attributive function, na also serves to code aspectual meanings such as perfective,
usually conveyed in English by Tagalog speakers as “already”.

In this paper, therefore, na/-ng will henceforth be labelled “attr” for “attributive
marker” in the sentences given below.

3.3 Word Order

Word order in Tagalog has all too often been characterized inaccurately as “free” or
“completely free”. There are, however, pragmatically motivated constraints on order.
Whenever the agent is marked by the genitive ng, it usually comes immediately after the
predicate to avoid ambiguity, particularly when there is another ng-phrase in the clause.
There are other more complex constraints on word order, e.g. those governing the
tendency toward cliticization of pronouns—which for obvious reasons we cannot discuss
We can more accurately say that order in Tagalog is only relatively free.

3.4 Basic Sentence Structure

Schachter and Otanes (1972), Naylor (1979), Ferrell and Stanley (1979) and others have
pointed out that Tagalog and/or Philippine-type sentence structure is like an equation. It
is thus bipartite and one nuclear constituent equates with the other and the two are joined
by parataxis. Non-nuclear constituents within the domain of either nuclear constituent
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 167

function as attributes of the nuclear constituent that dominates them. This would mean
therefore that in semantically transitive sentences, whenever the patient or agent is not the
NP marked by ang as subject/topic, it is governed by the verbal word as its attribute
rather than as its object10, as its genitive (attributive) marker (ng) would indicate.
In multiclausal sentences, e.g. quotatives, the constituent clauses may be related
attributively or by simple compounding. In the former, the relation is marked by na,
which is often deleted in oral discourse; in the latter, compounding is marked by the
conjunction at.
In the examples and the discussion that follow, ‘topic’ is used to refer to the
constituent that is the target of predication11 (the putative subject/topic). Justification for
this choice should emerge from the discussion here and in later sections.
The following sentences illustrate the basic Tagalog sentence constructions.
Predicate/Comment Topic
(1) Titser ang
teacher babae
‘The woman
(is a) teacher.’

10 Cf. Lopez (1928) and (1941) quoted below.

11 In Philippine linguistics, it has been common practice to refer to the “subject” constituent of the
clause as “topic”. (Schachter adheres to this practice in his writings on Tagalog.) Of less common
adherence is the practice of referring to the “predicate” constituent as “comment”.
(2) Maganda ang
stat-beauty babae.
‘The woman (is)
(3) Umalis ang
leave-AF, babae.
completive nom
‘The woman left.’

Note that the predicate noun and adjective are no different from the verbal predicate in
their relation with the ang-NP. Since there is no copulative verb in sentences (1), and (2),
all three predicates (noun, adjective, as well as the verbal predicate) occupy the same
syntagmatic position; that is to say, in the Tagalog basic clause structure, nominal,
adjectival, and “verbal” predicates are undifferentiated in their syntagmatic relation with
the putative subject/topic ang-NP.
Predication is by means of parataxis in all three, thus “equating” the comment with the
topic. Sentences (1), (2), and (3) are analyzable as:
Teacher=the woman;
Beautiful=the woman;
Left=the woman.
Subject, voice and ergativity 168

Although one might argue that in sentence (3) we have a verbal predicate that
contracts a subject relation with the ang-NP, on the other hand, sentences (1) and (2) do
not have a copulative verb (as their English equivalents do) that would give rise to
subject relations with the topic NP. What is in fact clearly evident is that, given its
syntagmatic identity with the nonverbal predicates of sentences (1) and (2), the putative
verb in sentence (3) is syntactically nonverbal as well. Clearly, all three sentence-types
belong to the same paradigm.
The attributive character of the verbal predication in sentence (3) comes through quite
clearly by virtue of identical structure with the generally accepted attributive-type
sentences (1) and (2). In fact, Schachter (1976:498) quotes Benton (1971:167) as saying
that the putative subject ang-NP is “the entity to which the action of the verb is
attributed.” [italics mine—PBN]
From the examples given above and in the following sections, the basic equational and
bipartite structure of Tagalog should become evident; it is the same mould in which all
other Tagalog predication types are cast.
The basic type that sentence (3) above represents, i.e. a sentence with a verbal
predicate, a nomen actionis, consists of five different subtypes, known in Philippine
linguistics as focus types. (The focus system will be discussed further in the next section.)

3.5 Verbal Predications

The term ‘verbal in the ensuing discussion of focus should be understood as referring to
the name of an action, a nomen actionis, rather than to the syntactic category ‘verb’.
As has been shown above, the basic verbal predication is no different from the
nonverbal in its structure. However, since actions involve initiators, affected entities,
temporal and aspectual considerations, etc., the words that name actions, i.e. the verbal
predicates, are inflected for focus and aspect in Tagalog.

3.5.1 The Focus System

‘Focus’ in the Tagalog verbal clause refers to the syntactic-semantic-pragmatic
relationship that the verbal predicate holds, by virtue of its focus affix, with the topic
ang-NP. The focus affix assigns a semantic case role to the topic ang-NP and the verbal
predicate thus “focuses” on the ang-NP. Hence the topic of a verbal predication is said to
be the “in-focus NP”. Note, however, that the ang-NP itself does not code semantic case
role. In fact, the very fact that the semantic case role of the ang-NP is coded in the verbal
word is further indication that the verbal word is nominal, since case or semantic case
role is generally identified with nouns.
While we can say that there are five different focus types in Tagalog, they actually fall
into two primary categories: actor-focus (AF) and nonactor-focus. Nonactor-focus in turn
consists of four subtypes: goal focus (GF), locative focus (LF), benefactive focus (BF),
and instrumental focus (IF).
In addition, the following abbreviations will be used: nom (nominative); gen
(genitive); loc (locative); compl (completive aspect); attr (attributive marker). In the
discussions and the Tagalog examples throughout the following sections, I use the terms
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 169

‘topic’, ‘actor’ and ‘goal’ as analogues (not necessarily equivalents) of ‘subject’, ‘agent’,
and ‘patient’.
For example:
Predicate/Comment Topic
(4) Nag-alis ng ang
sapatos babae.
remove-AFcompl gen shoes nom
‘The woman removed (her) shoes.’
Literally, ‘Removed of shoes (is) the woman’.
(5) Inalis ng ang (kanyang)
babae sapatos
remove-GFcompl gen woman nom shoes
‘The woman removed the/her shoes.’
Literally, ‘Removed of woman (are) the/her
(6) Inalisan ng ng ang bata.
babae sapatos
remove-LFcompl gen woman gen nom child
‘The woman removed (the) shoes from the
Literally, ‘Removed-from of the woman of
(the) shoes (is) the child.’
(7) Ipinag-alis ng ng tinik ang bata.
remove-BFcompl gen woman gen nom child
‘The woman removed thorns for the child.’

12 For more detailed treatments of focus, see Naylor (1975, 1979, 1986, 1988a, 1990).
Literally, ‘Removed-for of the woman of (the)
thorns (is) the child.’
(8) Ipinang-alis ng babae ng sapatos ang
remove-IFcompl gen woman gen shoes nom
‘The woman removed the shoes with the
Literally, ‘Removed-with of the woman of
(the) shoes (is) the shoehorn.’

Ang does not, as pointed out earlier, indicate any semantic role; the latter is indicated by
the focus affix of the verbal predicate. In sentence (4) nag-, an actor focus prefix, assigns
actor role to ang babae and “focuses” on it in the process. This is why this sentence is
said to be in actor focus.
Subject, voice and ergativity 170

Sentences (5), (6), (7) and (8), on the other hand, are said to be in nonactor focus,
since in the process of assigning nonactor roles (goal, locative, benefactive, and
instrumental, respectively), the verbal focus affix “focuses” on the ang-NP as nonactor
while at the same time specifying the particular nonactor role it assigns.
Thus in sentence (5), ang babae is assigned goal (patient) role by the goal focus affix
in-13 and the sentence is said to be in goal focus. In (6), ang bata is assigned locative role
by the locative focus suffix -an and the sentence is said to be in locative focus.
Similarly, in sentence (7), ang bata is assigned benefactive role by the benefactive
focus affix ip(in)ag- and the sentence is said to be in benefactive focus. Sentence (8) is in
instrumental focus since ang kalsador is assigned instrumental role by the instrumental
focus affix ip(in)ang-.
Actor-focus may be semantically intransitive or transitive. For example, sentence (3)
above, Umalis ang babae ‘The woman left’, is actor-focus “intransitive” (a one-place
verbal word) while sentence (4), Nag-alis ng sapatos ang babae ‘The woman removed
her shoes’ is actor-focus “transitive” (a two-place verbal word). Both um- and nag- mark
actor focus but neither marks transitivity since transitivity14 is not coded in the

13 The infix -in- in sentence (5) is said to be a “portmanteau morpheme” since it codes both goal
focus and completive aspect. In fact, this infix typically codes completive aspect in nonactor-focus
verbal words as in sentences (6), (7) and (8), with -an,, and ip..ang- coding LF, BF, and IF
14 What um- and mag- do code is the semantic opposition: “centripetal-centrifugal” action (cf.
Ramos 1974). In fact, an um- verbal word which is centripetal may either be semantically transitive
or intransitive; for example, kumain ‘to eat’ is AF, centripetal and “transitive”, i.e., a two-place
verbal word, while umalis ‘to leave’ or ‘left’ is AF, centripetal but “intransitive” i.e. a one-place
verbal word. Again, clearly, the notions of transitivity that underlie the verbal syntax of languages
like English are irrelevant to the Tagalog verbal system. The latter functions within an entirely
different set of oppositions (possibly ultimately due to the nominal syntax that characterises it).
In general, -um marks centripetal action while mag- marks centrifugal action. This is clearly
illustrated by the Tagalog words for ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. Tagalog linguistically processes these words
as having the same referent (the concept of exchange) and so the same root is used for both: bili.
However, ‘to buy’ is directed centripetally and is therefore marked by -um while ‘to sell’ is directed
centrifugally and is in turn marked by mag-; thus ‘to buy’ is bumili and ‘to sell’ is magbili (which
makes it rather confusing for my students of Tagalog).

morphosyntax. Thus the notion “semantically transitive” is only inferable from the lexical
semantics of the verbal predicate and the morphological case markers of the associated
nouns, and we can see that transitivity is not a morphosyntactic parameter in Tagalog.
The in-focus NP, e.g. ang babae in sentence (4), undergoes primary topicalization, and
achieves prominence as the NP focused on by the verbal predicate, by virtue of which it
bears the burden of the message at clause level. Thus in addition to the semantic
relationship of case role assignment, the verbal predicate contracts syntactic and
pragmatic relationships with the ang-NP as well.15
The equational structure of Tagalog predications mentioned earlier can be seen to
serve as the structural basis for the focus relationship. It is certainly no accident that the
verbal predicate holds a syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic relationship with only one
NP, the nominative ang-NP and no other. In fact, the relationships within the clause, i.e.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 171

semantic, pragmatic and syntactic, are bipartite, reflecting the congruence with the
quintessential equational clause structure.

3.5.2 The genitive NP

Although the genitive is most commonly associated with its function of coding the
possessive, it does mark a more generalized attributive relation. In Tagalog, the genitive
marker ng codes such a generalized attributive relation that it encompasses various
meanings. In this regard, we need to distinguish the meanings, such as the attribution of
possession or action, experience, or mental process to a noun, that the grammatical
attributive relation encodes.16 We shall explain this further in the discussion of the
examples given below. (For more detailed treatment of this matter, see Naylor (1979).) Nominal Attributive Complements

In the following examples, we have the genitive functioning as nominal attributive
complement in Tagalog in what is traditionally known as “possessive phrases”:

ang sapatos nang bata

nom shoes gen child
‘the shoes of the child’

ang anak niya

nom offspring his/her
‘the child of his/hers’
15 The pragmatics of focus at discourse level cannot be dealt with within the confines of
this paper. For a discussion of discourse pragmatics, see Naylor (1975, 1986). For an
interesting treatment of focus, see French (1987).
16 Foley (1976) suggested that nang is etymologically derived from na plus ang. If this is
so, it would seem that what has traditionally been written ng and nang (marker of
“adverbial” function) are really one and the same marker of attributive/modifier relation.

ang titser ni Pedro

nom teacher gen
‘the teacher of Pedro’

ang kulay nang laruan

nom colour gen toy
‘the colour of the toy’

Syntactically, the genitive NPs function as attributive complements of the head word of
the possessive phrase:
Subject, voice and ergativity 172

nang bata is attributive complement of ang sapatos;

niya is attributive complement of ang anak;
ni Pedro is attributive complement of ang titser;
nang laruan is attributive complement of ang kulay.

Semantically, however, i.e. in terms of what the phrase “says”, possession of the shoes is
attributed to the child and possession of the child to him or her. In the third example,
possession is figurative in meaning and in the last example, colour is attributed to the toy. Attributive Complements of Verbal Predicates

We can see in the examples of semantically transitive sentences given above that in the
actor focus sentence, the goal or patient is marked by ng as in sentence (4). In most
translations of this sentence, the genitive marking of the patient is ignored and so we end
up with ‘The woman removed her shoes’. From such a rendition, the resulting analysis
treats ng sapatos as a direct object as in English. On the other hand, if we base our
analysis on the Tagalog sentence as it stands, we would see that sentence (4), Nag-alis ng
sapatos ang babae, really says ‘removed of (the) shoes (is) the woman’ (cf. Wolfenden
(1961) in which the genitive marking is taken into account and the transliteration
faithfully reflects it.) Its English translation equivalent would of course be ‘The woman
removed her shoes’.
Recall that the basic verbal predication, sentence (3) above, belongs to the same
paradigm as the nonverbal predications, sentences (1) and (2). All three predicate types
bear the same syntagmatic relation of parataxis with their associated ang-NPs. Having the
same basic structure as these three basic sentence types, we can therefore say that the
predication in the sentences illustrating the various focus types, (4) through (8), is also
paratactically realized and is thus also attributive.
Our analysis should not of course be based on the English translation equivalent. The
Tagalog construction as it stands shows that the goal NP is in fact an attributive
complement of the nomen actionis predicate, not an argument of a putative grammatical
verb. As Lopez (1928:51) said:

The quasi-verb is not a pure real verb, for it is treated like a nomen in the
sentence and the enlargements, according to their form, are considered as
attributes and not as objects [italics mine—PBN]

In the nonactor-focus constructions, in which the actor is not the ang-NP, the actor is also
marked by the genitive ng as in sentences (5), (6), (7), and (8). In the past, most
translations of these sentence types have rendered the genitive actor-phrase as a
prepositional phrase with ‘by’. But there is no such meaning in ng. Ng is a genitive
marker, not an instrumental marker. Clearly, assigning the meaning ‘by’ to ng is based on
the English rendition of these constructions as a passive form.
For example, sentence (5) above,
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 173

Inalis ng babae ang sapatos,

remove-GF, completive gen woman nom shoes

used to be given the translation, ‘The shoes were removed by the woman’, although more
recently since the consensus has developed that this is not a passive in Tagalog, it has
usually been translated as ‘The woman removed the shoes’.17

3.6 Semantically Verbal Predicates

From what we have seen so far, especially the fact that the verbal sentence is structurally
no different from the nonverbal sentence and that nontopic patient or agent is coded as
genitive in verbal sentences, we can infer that the Tagalog verbal word is actually
syntactically a noun, a nomen actionis. (Chomsky (1982) in fact asserts that genitive is a
nominal relation.)
As pointed out earlier, all languages must have a word for referring to actions but they
are not necessarily grammaticized as a verb in all languages. For Tagalog, the verbal
word is a nomen actionis and it is therefore not a grammatical verb.

3.7 Equational Sentences

In the literature, a sentence type marked by the occurrence of two paratactically related
ang-NPs, one functioning as predicate and the other functioning as topic, has been
traditionally identified as the “equational sentence”.18 Having earlier described all
predication in Tagalog as paratactic, there might seem to be no possibility of a separate
equational sentence structure.
Not to be taken too literally in this sense, however, the label “equational sentence”
does serve to distinguish the construction that codes the meaning of the cleft and pseudo-
cleft sentences of English.
Although the equational sentence construction may be only peripheral

17 There are, however, descriptions of Tagalog that continue to analyze the nonactor focus
constructions as passive forms and the focus system as a prototypical system of voice. (Cf. Kroeger
1991, most recently.)
18 In the literature, equational sentences are viewed as involving the “nominalization” of “verbal”
predicates. In our view which treats verbal predicates as nomina actionis, obviously no such
“nominalization” can occur. What does occur is the “reifying” of an action; i.e. with the proposing
of ang, the nomen actionis noun that names an action is made a nomen rei noun that names an

to the main arguments of this essay, I have included it to apprise the reader of the
existence of such a commonly used construction and to provide further evidence for the
view of the syntactic structure of Tagalog predication espoused in this essay.
With such a purpose in mind and within the obvious limitations of this essay, details
of meaning-modifying contextual constraints and variations of what Halliday (1967–68)
refers to as “information structure” (involving modulations of stress, juncture, and
intonation) have been omitted. Given this omission, the translation equivalents given
below do not exhaust the range of possible meanings.
Subject, voice and ergativity 174

By marking the predicates with ang, the sentences given above can be transformed
into equational constructions. Thus we have:
Predicate/Comment Topic
(9) Ang titser ang babae
nom teacher nom
‘The woman is the teacher.’ woman
‘It’s the woman who is the
(10) Ang maganda ang babae
nom beautiful nom
‘The woman is the beautiful one.’ woman
‘It’s the woman who is the
beautiful one.’
(11) Ang umalis ang babae
nom left nom
‘The woman is the one who left.’ woman
‘It’s the woman who left.’

As may well be gleaned from the English translations, equational sentences convey
contrastive meaning in the sense that a particular entity is singled out from a range of
possible choices. Thus in sentence (9), ‘the woman’—not the man—is the teacher; in
sentence (10), ‘the woman’—not the man or the child or even a swan or an Arabian
steed—is the beautiful one; and in sentence (11), ‘the woman’—not the man or the child
or the chauffeur—is the one who left. (These interpretations assume unmarked
Depending on the preceding statement or question, topic/comment assignment can
also be reversed so that we can have:
Predicate/Comment Topic
(12) Ang babae ang titser
nom woman nom
‘The teacher is the woman.’ teacher
‘It’s the teacher who is the
(13) Ang babae ang
nom woman maganda
‘The beautiful one is the nom
woman.’ beautiful
‘It’s the beautiful one who is the
(14) Ang babae ang
nom woman umalis
‘The one who left is the woman.’ nom left
‘It’s the one who left who is the

It must be borne in mind that all these equational sentences cooccur with modulations of
stress, juncture, and intonation such that what is coded as new information would vary
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 175

Sentences of different focus types may similarly be transformed into equational

sentences. For example, the locative focus sentence,
(6) Inalisan ng babae ng sapatos ang bata
‘The woman removed (the) shoes from the

may be transformed into

(15) Ang bata ang inalisan ng babae ng sapatos.
‘The child is the one that the woman
removed shoes from.’
or more idiomatically, ‘It was the child
whose shoes the woman removed.’

In sentence (15) ang bata has become the predicate and ang inalisan ng sapatos has
assumed the function of topic.19 The “test” for this is the fact that if the order of sentence
(15) were to be reversed as in sentence (16) below, the marker ay must be postposed to
the topic NP that was moved to pre-predicate position. (This is because the unmarked
order in Tagalog is Predicate-Topic; moving the topic to initial or pre-predicate position
results in marked order, requiring marking with ay.) We would therefore have:
(16) Ang inalisan ng babae ng sapatos ay ang
‘The one that the woman removed shoes
from is the child.’

With the ang overtly coding the predicate as nominal and its overtly bipartite equational
form, the equational sentence typifies the basic syntactic structure of the clause in
Tagalog that has been argued for in this paper.

3.8 “Subjectless” Sentence Types

As mentioned earlier, “subjectless”20 sentences are so called since they do not contain an
ang-NP. While this may be so, they certainly would not be topicless.
Keenan (1976b) points out that the mere occurrence of subjectless sentences does not
invalidate an otherwise viable subject analysis of a language. Accordingly, in spite of the
existence in Tagalog of several subjectless constructions, it should be analyzable as a
subject language.

19 Videa de Guzman (1984, p. c.) would argue on the other hand that ang bata retains topic
20 The use of the term “subjectless” does not imply the acceptance of the notion of subject nor of
the existence the sentences with subject in Tagalog. I merely use this term as a convenient and
comprehensible label for the type of sentence marked by the absence of the ang-NP—the clause
constituent that has been widely accepted by others as the (putative) subject in Tagalog.

The differences between the part “subjectless” constructions play in the grammar of
Tagalog and that of English, however, may have been overlooked in arriving at such a
Subject, voice and ergativity 176

conclusion. In Tagalog, there are at least six “subjectless” construction types and all have
high functional load.
The following sentences are examples of the desiderative, the existential, the
meteorological, the quotative, the interjective, and the recent perfective constructions.
Desiderative construction:
(17) Gusto ng bata ng gatas.
wish gen child gen milk
‘Wish of child of milk.’
(‘The child wants (some) milk.’)

Existential construction:
(18) May gatas sa pridyider
stative-loc milk loc refrigerator
‘State of being there milk in the
(‘There is milk in the refrigerator.’)

Meteorological construction:
(19) Umuulan.
rain-incompletive aspect
(‘(It) is raining.’)

Quotative21 construction:
(20) Sinabi ni Tina (na)…Quotation…
said-GF gen attr
‘Say-GF-compl of Tina
(‘Tina said that…Quotation…’)

Interjective construction:
(21) Ang ganda ng langit!
nom beauty gen sky
‘The beauty of the sky!’
(‘What a beautiful sky!’)

Note that (21) is not a clause construction. Thus while the ang-phrase in this sentence
codes nominative case as well as topic, it cannot possibly code subject.
Recent perfective:
(22) Kaaalis lang ng babae.
leave-rec.perf. just gen woman
‘Just recent leaving of the woman’
(‘The woman has just left.’)

21 This refers to verbs like ‘say’, ‘think’, ‘plan’, ‘promise’, ‘ask’, ‘exclaim’, ‘retort’, etc. (which
could conceivably be regarded as performatives) whose complement strings syntactically function
as attributes or modifiers of the head clause. They are also “subjectless” sentences since the head
clause/higher sentence does not have an ang-NP.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 177

The existence in the sentence grammar of Tagalog of such a relatively high number of
“subjectless” constructions, all with high functional load, suggests that the notion of
subject is not an essential one in Tagalog. Needless to say, this militates against a subject
analysis for Tagalog clause syntax.

3.9 Summary
In a nutshell, as the examples of Tagalog predication types show, the basic syntactic
operation that “glues” Tagalog structure together is attribution, both at phrase and clause
level. At clause level, the attribution is realized by simple parataxis; at phrase level the
attribution is realized by hypotaxis, marked by na and ng (the “linker” and the genitive).22
The attributive relations between the predicate and the NP that is the target of
predication lend support to the view that Tagalog verbal predicates are syntactically
nominal since syntactically verbal predicates give rise to transitivity relations with their
argument NPs.
The view of the overall syntactic structure of Tagalog predication syntax outlined in
the preceding sections provides the basis for the analysis of verbal predicates in Tagalog
as nomina actionis. As has already been pointed out, given that the verbal predicate is
syntactically nominal, then such verb-based relations as subject and object cannot be said
to exist in this type of predication system.
Within this view of the overall structure of Tagalog syntax, we shall address the
question: Does Tagalog have the notion ‘subject’?

4.0 Tagalog and the Notion of Subject

The subject has traditionally been understood to be the constituent of the sentence that
refers to what the sentence is about, the topic of discussion. In languages like English, it
was the subject that performed the action denoted by the verb. The subject also had to
“agree” with the verb in person and number. In languages that marked case
morphologically, e.g. Latin, the subject was in the nominative case—the least marked.
All told, the subject NP conflates pragmatic, semantic, and morphosyntactic functions.
This was not made explicit, however, until more recently when Halliday (1967–68,
1970) and evidently Sweet before him, brought out the fact that the notion of subject
subsumed functions in different but interrelated systems at play in the construction of a
sentence. He pointed out that the subject NP in the English unmarked sentence
construction conflates the logical subject (ideational, e.g. actor/agent), the grammatical
subject (modal/interpersonal), and the psychological subject (textual), and another kind of
psychological subject, given (vs. new), (also textual).

22 For further discussion of this point of view, see Naylor (1979).

Among Philippine linguists, the complex character of the notion of subject had already
been at least tacitly recognized. Its agent and topic components were found to be split and
not conflated in the same nominal constituent (the putative subject or topic ang-phrase).
In studies of narrative discourse in certain Philippine languages, Pike (1963, 1964)
brought out the correlations between the changing semantic-pragmatic roles and the
Subject, voice and ergativity 178

constant syntactic role that the subject/topic encodes within the verbal focus system.
Forster (1964) perceived the verbal clauses of Dibabawon, another Philippine language,
as having dual structure: (1) verb-object-subject and (2) topic-comment. Naylor (1973,
1974, 1975) referred to the ang-NP as the surface subject, the in-focus NP, the topic, or
the theme in clauses with marked order, depending on its function in the system within
which the predication was being viewed. Schachter (1976 and 1977) demonstrated that
role-related and reference-related properties of subject are divided between the ang-NP
and the actor NP.
Thus, with the recognition of more than one system at play in the grammar of the
sentence came the prevailing view that while subject properties might otherwise be found
in Philippine languages, topic analysis of the constituent that was the target of predication
was the more systemically relevant. The ang-phrase always coded clause topic but not
agent; it therefore made more sense to refer to this NP as the ‘topic’.
The bipartite/equational structure of the Tagalog clause, which may have given rise to
the perception of the structure of Tagalog predication as being topic-and-comment, may
have contributed as well to the perception that topic, rather than subject, was the more
structurally relevant term. In any case, Philippine linguists came to refer to the ang-NP in
Tagalog and its equivalents in other Philippine languages as the ‘topic’ (vs. comment)
since the late 1950s. Schachter and Otanes (1972), for example, pointed out that Tagalog
basic sentence structure may not be adequately described in terms of the notion ‘subject’.
In their reference grammar of Tagalog they consistently used the term ‘topic’ to refer to
the function of the ang-NP in clause syntax.
In 1973, however, McKaughan (1973) resuscitated ‘subject’ but redefined it to
accommodate the sentence structure of Philippine languages. Some Philippinists followed
suit while others continued to maintain that the ang-NP is the topic rather than subject.
By 1990, the swing to a subject analysis of the ang-NP had gathered steam. Starosta,
Pawley, and Reid (1982) argue that Philippine languages have subjects. Ramos, whose
earlier work referred to the ang-NP as the ‘topic’, now (in Ramos and Cena 1990) refers
to it as ‘subject’ or ‘topic’ in parentheses—still reflecting a nagging ambivalence. De
Wolf (1988) makes it clear that ‘topic’ equals ‘subject’ in Tagalog and that ‘subject’ is
“an eminently applicable concept in the description of Philippine languages” (188).23

23 Yet he states that “…the typological label most appropriate for Philippine language sentence
structure may be, both diachronically and synchronically, ‘nominal-equational’…” (ibid.). Thus
there seems to be an apparent contradiction in De Wolf’s position.

Most recently, Kroeger (1991) argues that the nominative ang-NP is a subject and not
a topic, although he admits that his knowledge of the notion of topic is limited. In fact, he
had to rely on the work of Fox et al. 24 for data on topic continuity in discourse in
Tagalog, which he used as one of two “tests” for topichood of the ang-NP, against which
it failed to qualify as a topic.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 179

4.1 Does Tagalog have subjects?

Our answer to the above question is “No”.
The description and the examples of Tagalog basic sentence structure should have
amply demonstrated that syntactic relations in Tagalog clauses are attributive and
nominal, which in turn argues for a nomina actionis analysis of verbal predicates. Once
more we note that subject and object are grammatical notions based on the relations
between a verb and its arguments. If Tagalog verbal predicates are nomina actionis and
not grammatical verbs at all, then there can be no basis for the notions subject and object.
Despite the fact that the logic of this reasoning should suffice to support such a view,
we ought not let the matter rest on the basis of this syllogism alone. There is the matter of
certain syntactic properties of subject that are purportedly demonstrable in the syntactic
behaviour of the putative subject ang-NP of Tagalog that must be dealt with. In the
sections that follow, I wish to show why such syntactic properties of subject are not
applicable to this NP.
In almost all treatments of the notion of subject, reflexivization, relativization, and
equi-NP deletion are brought to bear on the matter as touchstones for subjecthood.
However, as will be shown below, the ang-NP does not “control”, by virtue of its
function as subject/topic, reflexivization, equi-NP deletion, or relativization. As regards
equi-NP deletion and relativization, it is questionable if we are dealing with a clause
structure at all in Tagalog; if in fact the “complement clause” and the “relative clause”
are phrasal structures, then by definition, there would not even be a subject to speak of.
In the following sections, I shall try to bring out certain aspects of the structure of
reflexive sentences, sentences with “relativized” strings, and sentences with
“coreferential complement subject deletion” and explain why none of these may
constitute criteria for subjecthood in Tagalog.

4.11 Reflexivization
For Tagalog, Schachter (1976) argues that it is the actor-NP, whether as topic ang-NP or
not, that controls both reflexivization and equi-NP

24 This study suffers on two counts: (1) it was based on a single and elicited text found in
Bloomfield’s Tagalog Texts with Grammatical Analysis (see further comments in footnote 41); (2)
it was limited to semantically transitive clauses, i.e. two and three-place verbal predicates.

deletion. Since ‘actor’ is a semantic case role, control of reflexivization (and equi-NP
deletion) cannot therefore be a syntactic property of ‘subject’ in Tagalog.
For example:
(23) Ginamot ng doktor ang kanyang sarili
cure-GF-compl gen doctor nom poss self
‘The doctor treated himself.’
Literally, ‘Cured of the doctor (nom) his
Subject, voice and ergativity 180

As we can see from this sentence (and as Schachter (1976) pointed out), reflexivization is
clearly not a syntactic process at all since it is controlled by the actor (agent) NP.25 As
such, the question of control of reflexivization as a syntactic property of subject becomes
As one can see, this is true not just for Tagalog but for English as well. As I have just
mentioned, Schachter (1976) pointed out that it is the actor-NP (whether as topic ang-NP
or as nontopic genitive) that controls reflexivization in Tagalog. Similarly, it is the agent-
as-subject, not subject as such, that controls reflexivization in English. This may be why
we cannot reflexivize passives: we cannot say *Himself was cured by the doctor.
There is yet another point I would like to bring out regarding the notion of
reflexivization. Do we really have a “reflexive construction” syntactically distinct from
an ordinary “transitive construction”? At least for Tagalog, it is easy to see that in their
syntactic structure, “reflexive” and “goal focus” sentences are identical. What makes a
sentence “reflexive” is a function of the lexical semantics of the words for agent and
patient: each is coreferential with the other.
To illustrate, let us look at a goal focus construction (sentence 24) that parallels the
“reflexive construction” given above:
(24) Ginamot ng doktor ang kanyang pasyente.
cure-GF-compl gen doctor nom poss patient
‘The doctor treated his patient.’
Literally, ‘Cured of the doctor (nom) his
(23) Ginamot ng doktor ang kanyang sarili
cure-GF-compl gen doctor nom poss self
‘The doctor treated himself.’
Literally, ‘Cured of the doctor (nom) his

These are both goal focus constructions; i.e. the verbal predicate has the goal focus affix -
in- that correlates with the ang-NP and assigns goal or patient role to it (while at the same
time marking nonactor-focus completive aspect). The two sentences are identical in
syntactic form and meaning: they are simple “transitive” sentences, i.e. with two-place

25 Given (1992, p. c.) similarly views reflexivization as agent, not subject, controlled and therefore
a matter of semantics, not syntax.

predicates. The reflexive meaning stems from the lexical content of the word for “self”,
whose meaning, “own body” is coreferential with the actor/agent NP.
The notion of reflexivization does not rest on a distinct syntactic process; it does rest
on the semantic concept of coreferentiality of the constituents coding the semantic roles
of actor/agent and goal/patient.
Since reflexivization is not a syntactic process at all, it cannot be said to be part of the
syntactic behaviour of ‘subject’ in Tagalog—nor perhaps in any other language for that
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 181

4.1.2 Equi-NP Deletion and Relativization

Although control of equi-NP deletion has been shown to reside in the actor-NP while
accessibility to relativization is said to be a property of the (underlying) topic ang-NP, I
have put them together in the same section. This is because I wish to show that in their
actually realized syntactic forms, i.e. the constructions that speakers actually use, they
share the same syntactic structure. Both the “complement clause” and the “relative
clause” are marked by na, which codes their function as attributes or modifiers of the
preceding head constituent and marks them as phrasal, not clausal, structures.
The view of the complement and relative strings as clausal structures, that seems to be
generally accepted in the literature, can only be held in terms of underlying sentence
structure in which they are seen as embedded clauses whose subject NPs have been
deleted in the process of equi-NP deletion and relativization. The deleted subject NP is
thus seen as controlling equi-NP deletion and relativization—a form of syntactic
behaviour that purports to be diagnostic of subjecthood.
But since we are describing—and we should be describing—the constructions that
speakers actually use, our analysis should not be based on the underlying structure.27
Therefore, based on the constructions that Tagalog speakers actually use, our analysis
reveals phrasal structure for the complement and relative strings in these sentence types.

26 Even the Romance reflexive constructions can be shown to be syntactically no different from
ordinary transitive constructions, with reflexive meaning realized by the lexical semantics of the
reflexive pronoun or the dative pronoun functioning as reflexive.
Chomsky (1983, MIT class lecture) argued that the Italian reflexive pronoun si is a subject. It
appears to be, however, a proposed pronoun object which occurs regularly in Romance languages;
the subject is actually incorporated in the verb as a person-number morpheme in final position.
It goes without saying, however, that in rejecting reflexivization as a syntactic process and
consequently as a syntactic property diagnostic of subjecthood, we do not reject the notion of
“reflexive sentence” type based on other grounds.
27 This is not meant to trivialize underlying structure nor to minimize its importance in the study
and description of language and languages. However, it is just as necessary and just as important to
account for actually realized (“surface”) structures in their own terms, if we are to have some
understanding of the ways in which a particular language or language type organizes universal
concepts into a grammatical system of its own.

If in fact the complement and relative strings are not clausal structures, by definition,
there would not be a subject/topic constituent at all. We would thus simply have a phrase
modifier of the head word: a modificational rather than a predicational structure. Equi-NP Deletion

As earlier mentioned, Schachter (1976) has demonstrated that equi-NP deletion (and
reflexivization} are controlled by the actor-NP, not by the topic ang-NP. His examples of
equi-NP deletion are well-known and often quoted and they do show that the ang-NP is
deleted only when it is also the actor. Thus, control of equi-NP deletion in Tagalog is not
assignable as a syntactic property of the putative subject ang-NP.
Subject, voice and ergativity 182

Sentences (25) and (26) are taken from Schachter (1976:504, although the
transliteration is mine). In (25), the underlying complement clause would be: …na
hiramin niya28 ang pera sa bangko. Under equi-NP deletion, the (nontopic) actor (niya) is
said to have been deleted from the complement clause.
(25) Nag-atubili siyang29 hiramin ang pera
hesitate-AFcompl 3sg-attr borrow-GF nom
money sa bangko.
loc bank
‘He hesitated to borrow the money from
a/the bank.’

On the other hand in (26), the underlying complement clause would be: …na humiram
siya ng pera sa bangko. It is again the actor, which this time is also the topic, siya, that is
said to have been deleted under equi-NP deletion.
(26) Nag-atubili siyang humiram ng pera
hesitate-AF-compl 3sg-attr borrow-AF gen
money sa bangko.
loc bank
‘He hesitated to borrow (some) money from
a/the bank.’

Sentence (27), a “subjectless” sentence, is another example of this type of construction:

(27) Gusto kong kumain ng adobo.
wish gen-lsg-attr eat-AF gen adobo
‘My wish (is) eat of adobo.’
(‘I want to eat (some) adobo.’)

Here, as in Schachter’s examples, it is the actor-NP ako (nom-1sg), which

28 Niya and ko in sentence (27) below belong to the genitive set of pronouns. Like the genitive ng-
NPs, they function either as marker of possessive or as marker of nontopic actor/agent or nontopic
goal/patient NPs.
29 Siya and ako (the “deleted subject” NP of the complement clause in sentence (27)) belong to the
nominative set of pronouns. Like the nominative ang-NP, they function as topic NPs.

in this case is also the topic, that is said to have been deleted under equi-NP deletion from
the underlying “complement clause” (…na kumain ako ng adobo).
These examples clearly show that equi-NP deletion is indeed “controlled” by the
semantic role of actor/agent and cannot therefore be taken as a syntactic feature
diagnostic of subjecthood.
Notice, furthermore, that in all three sentences the actor pronoun has the ending -ng
which is critical in determining whether the syntactic structure of the complement string
is clausal or phrasal. This -ng is actually a cliticized na, whose function as attributive
marker has been discussed earlier. What the occurrence of na does in this sentence type is
to mark the hypotactic relation that the following string has with the preceding head
constituent. This means that the string marked by na is modificational in function rather
than predicational. Thus in the examples given above, the na-string functions as phrase
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 183

modifier of the nuclear predicates, nag-atubili in sentences (25) and (26) and gusto in
sentence (27).
It should be mentioned at this point that na-phrases never occur clause-initially nor
independently—they must always be linked postpositionally to some head string. They
stand in a relation of dependency.
Clearly, the na string in this sentence type is phrasal in its structure, not clausal. In
conclusion, equi-NP deletion or coreferential complement subject deletion cannot be
invoked in support of subject in Tagalog since the complement string does not even have
a subject constituent.30

4.122 Relativization
Schachter (1976) also showed that only the ang-NP was accessible to relativization,
which, according to Keenan and Comrie’s accessibility hierarchy, would identify it as
subject. As examples, he gives (1976:500, my transliteration):
(28) Matalino ang Making bumasa ng diyaryo.
intelligent nom man-attr read-AF-compl gen
‘Intelligent (is) the man-read of newspaper.’
(‘The man who read a/the newspaper is
(29) Interesante ang diyaryong binasa ng lalaki.
interesting nom newspaper-attr read-GF-
compl gen man
‘Interesting (is) the newspaper-read of man.’
(‘The newspaper that the man read is

However, Schachter’s analysis of relativization rests on the general belief that the
Tagalog relative string is an embedded clause. In the discussion that follows, I shall
therefore argue that the relative string is

30 The same analysis would apply to its English counterpart since in the actually realized
construction, the “complement clause” has been syntactically realized as an infinitival phrase—a
noun phrase that complements the predicate head.

not a clause at all but a modifier phrase, which may aptly be labelled “relative phrase”.31
The following sentences (30) and (31) are examples of sentences in which the
modifier string is marked by the attributive marker na, signalling its relation to the NP it
modifies as: Head+Attribute.
(30) Sinulatan ko ang titser na mabait,
write-LF-compl. gen nom teacher attr kind
‘Written-to of me the teacher-kind.’
(‘I wrote to the kind teacher.’)
(31) Sinulatan ko ang titser na nakilala
write-LF-compl. gen-1sg nom teacher attr
ko sa miting.
Subject, voice and ergativity 184

gen-lsg loc meeting

‘Written-to of me the teacher-met of me at
(‘I wrote to the teacher whom I met at the

It should be apparent that sentences (30) and (31) have the identical nuclear constituent
Predicate [Pred+NP]+Topic [Head-NP+Attr-Modif]. Both the modification structures
(adjectival and “relativized”) show identical syntactic form:
titser na mabait
titser na nakilala ko sa miting.
In most of the literature, however, these modification structures are said to be
different: one has a simple adjective and the other has a relative clause. (We could just as
aptly refer to na mabait as a “relative word”.) As with equi-NP deletion, such an analysis
ignores the function of na32 which unequivocally specifies syntactic attributive function
for the string that follows it and marks the hypotactic relation that exists between the two
constituents of the modification structure: the head and its attribute. (See Naylor (1979)
for more detailed discussion.) Furthermore, this sort of analysis, in which the
“relativized” string is viewed as a clause structure, overlooks the actually occurring
construction in favour of the

31 In personal communication, Starosta likewise expressed the opinion that the “relative clause” in
Tagalog is really a relative phrase. Similarly, Bautista (1980) gives an excellent formal description
of relative phrases in Tagalog within the transformational-generative framework although she does
admit of certain kinds of relative strings as being clausal in structure.
32 Unfortunately, the function of na has generally been perceived as being nothing more than a
“linker”. As such, its presence has been ignored and the syntactic consequences of such presence
have consequently been ignored. To wit: “In Tagalog, the linker does only that—connect the
relative construction to the main clause: it fulfills no other function” (Bautista 1980:124). Yet
Bautista concludes that the majority of Tagalog relative constructions are phrasal!

presumed underlying structure.33

By virtue of the occurrence of na, na nakilala ko sa miting in sentence (31) is phrasal,
just like na maganda in sentence (30). They both function in modification structures as
modifiers of titser, regardless of the fact that the modifier in sentence (30) is a verbal
phrase while the modifier in sentence (29) is adjectival.
If the relative clause in Tagalog is a phrasal structure, then there would be no
predication and there would be no subject constituent. Thus there would be nothing on
which to base the accessibility hierarchy for identifying subjects in Tagalog.
The next two sentences are further examples of relative phrase constructions in
(32) Bumili ang mga tao ng bigas na pinadala
buy-AF-compl nom plural person gen rice
attr send-GF-compl
ng gobyerno.
gen government
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 185

‘Bought the people of rice-sent of

(The people bought (of the) rice that was
sent by the government.’)
(33) Nagtanim ako ng halaman sa pasong
plant-AF-compl I gen plant loc pot-attr give-
mo sa akin.
you-gen loc me
‘Planted I of plant in pot-gave of you to me.’
(‘I planted a plant in the pot that you gave

Sentences (32) and (33) show that not only ang-NPs, but also nang and sa phrases can be
the head of a relative phrase.
The relative clause in English is said to also function as specifier and modifier. Thus
we see that the same function is realized by different syntactic structures in Tagalog and
in English. In English, the modifier string is clausal because the relativizers who and that
are said to be functioning as the subject of the relative clause while in Tagalog, the
modifier string is phrasal.
Since the syntactic structure of “relative clauses” in Tagalog is phrasal—without a
subject constituent—then once more the question of accessibility to relativization as a
diagnostic of subjecthood becomes moot.

4.2 Conclusion
Schachter (1976), in his well-known article, has perceptively explored both sides of the
question of the syntactic properties of topic, actor, and actor-topic with particular
reference to quantifier float, reflexivization,

33 While it is true that each modification structure has its equivalent underlying predication, we
must bear in mind that we are describing the modification structure itself—not its underlying

relativization, and complement clause deletion (equi-NP deletion).

After thorough examination, he concludes that:

…there is in fact no single syntactic category in Philippine languages that

corresponds to the category identified as the subject in other languages.
Rather, there is a division of subject-like properties between the category
we have been calling the topic and the category we have been calling the
actor, with a few subject-like properties reserved for the intersection of the
topic and the actor, the actor-topic. While this conclusion is certainly
somewhat surprising, it need not necessarily be regarded as alarming. It
may be the case, as a matter of fact, that Philippine languages have a
Subject, voice and ergativity 186

unique contribution to make to our understanding of the nature of subjects

in general. (1976:513)

It is this very division of “subject-like properties” among different constituents of the

clause that has engendered the pendular swing from subject to topic analysis of the
nominal constituent that is the target of predication. It is at the same time symptomatic of
the very difference in the basic overall syntactic system of Tagalog that I have here
attempted to describe. Given this quintessential systemic difference, the notion of subject
simply does not play a part in Tagalog in the way universal concepts are organized in its
grammatical grid and realized by its syntactic system.

5. Topic in Tagalog

We have earlier stated that not all languages or language types have the notion of subject
as part of their syntactic system, but on the other hand, it would seem that all languages
must have a way of coding topic function in clause syntax for obvious reasons. This
means therefore that in answer to the question “subject or topic in Tagalog?”, by default,
we would have to opt for topic once we have rejected subject. This choice, however, can
stand on its own merits, as the following discussion of the notion of topic should reveal.
The notion of topic in Philippine languages would be yet another kind of topic.
Sentence or clause-level topic in Tagalog and other Philippine languages is the NP,
usually but not necessarily in the nominative case (the ang-NP in Tagalog), about which
a comment is made. Put differently, the topic of the clause is usually (though not
necessarily) the ang-NP that is the target of predication.34 This topic may thus be seen as
grammaticized in clause syntax and functioning as analogue of subject.
It has also been pointed out in the discussion of focus constructions that the ang-NP
does not code semantic case role. Since the prototypical subject has been defined as the
intersection of topic and agent and a lower-level subject has been defined as the
intersection of topic and

34 The likely reasons for identifying the ang-NP as (clause level) topic have been discussed earlier.

patient, as the ang-NP does not code either agent or patient, it obviously does not qualify
as any kind of subject at all! Since the only component of the subject complex that the
ang-NP codes is topic function, it cannot be analyzed as anything else but clause-level
topic—topic, Philippine style as described in the previous paragraph.
Tagalog, however, is a “verb-first” language35. Thus, in the unmarked order, the
theme-rheme and given-new components of topic function do not coincide in the same
constituent (as they do in English). Topic function is thus split between the predicate
serving as theme in the sense of “point of departure” and the ang-NP coding the “given”.
“What talk is about” is therefore jointly coded in the clause by the predicate and the ang-
phrase or its equivalent.
This may be difficult to comprehend without first being shown how the flow of
information in a Tagalog clause goes. To start with, consider the following sentence:
(34) Kinain ni Juan ang isda.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 187

eat-GF-compl gen nom fish

‘Juan ate the fish.’

The verbal predicate kinain gives the new information that ‘something was eaten’ while
its goal-focus affix -in- signals the focus relation (as indicator of semantic case role
[goal]) between the verbal predicate and its associated ang-NP, which is a given
component. At the same time, the very occurrence of an action presupposes the
involvement of an actor. Thus, the predicate contains a reference to a certain action and
the syntacto-semantic relations it generates and to the specific nominal case function
most directly involved in the type of action named by the predicate. It is a predication in
microcosm; as such, it is theme par excellence.
The ‘something that was eaten’ is ang isda ‘the fish’. As a referential nominal, it is
shared information—a given; but as the nominal that particularizes what the focus affix
of the predicate has announced, as the final outcome of pared-down probabilities, it is
new information. (Particularization, like contrast, is also a kind of new information.)
The flow of information in Tagalog appears to proceed from the general to the
particular. Rather than clear-cut distinctions of given and new (as has often been
erroneously presumed to be coded by discrete sentence constituents), which do not quite
coincide with the pragmatics-semantics of Tagalog predications, the notions general
versus particular seem to underlie the thematic structure of Tagalog predications.
The unmarked order of constituents in the Tagalog predication may thus be said to
represent the sequence:

35 Surely, the pragmatic organization of discourse in predicate-initial languages would be expected

to differ in at least some ways from that of languages of a different word order type.
(new, thematic (point of (given, new)
departure), given)
Predicate Target of
(Comment) (Topic)

Topic function, however, is at play at levels beyond the sentence. (Van Dijk (1977)
discusses topic function from sentence to paragraph all the way to a complete work.
Givon (1983b) addresses the question of topic continuity in discourse.) Yet the
distinction between clause-level and discourse-level topic function has not always been
brought to bear in many treatments of topic in Tagalog and has at times resulted in
apparent contradictions.
For example, topic in Tagalog36 has often been defined as the “centre of attention”.
Schachter (1978) justifiably objected to this and gave the following as a
counterargument. In answer to the question:
(35) Nasaan si Maria?
stat-where nom Maria
“Where is Maria?”

we have the reply:

(36) Hinuhugasan ang pinggan.
Subject, voice and ergativity 188

wash-GF-incompl nom dishes

“(She is) washing the dishes.”

The topic-NP in (36) is ang pinggan but it is not “the centre of attention”. The question
is, after all, about Maria, not the dishes, and clearly Maria is the “centre of attention”.
It should be borne in mind, however, that while this exchange consists of two clauses,
they constitute a single discourse unit (as question-answer sets do): a “higher sentence” in
which the second clause may be seen to function as ‘comment’ and the first as ‘topic’.
Maria (and her whereabouts), as coded in Nasaan si Maria?, is the discourse ‘topic’ and
“centre of attention” of this discourse unit and its ‘comment’ is Hinuhugasan ang
pinggan. Thus, within a unit of discourse consisting of more than one clause, a
constituent clause in its entirety may function as ‘topic’ or ‘comment’ at that level of
structure. On the other hand, within the clause, the clause-level topic of the question is si
Maria (which actually conflates both discourse and clause topic) and the clause level
topic of the reply is ang pinggan. Both clause topics may be the local “centre of
attention” but in the grammatical rather than in the discourse-pragmatic sense.
The notion of discourse topic leads us to the notion of topic continuity in discourse
(Givon 1983b) and what this may reveal regarding the topic versus subject analysis of
Tagalog. Kroeger (1991) has turned to a topic continuity study of narrative text in
Bloomfleld (1917) for support of a subject analysis of Tagalog. He states that since the
ang-phrase is not high

36 Cf. Adams and Manaster-Ramer (1988).

on the topic-continuity index, topic analysis cannot be claimed for it. Such a statement
appears to confuse discourse topic, which the notion of “topic continuity” is all about,
and clause-level topic function, which the ang-NP usually but not necessarily codes.
First and foremost, discourse topic must be distinguished from clause topic. (In fact
the very notion of topic continuity involves the process of tracking discourse topic and
identifying the way it is coded in clause syntax.) Thus, we would find that the ang-NP
usually but not necessarily codes clause topic but just as it does not always code clause
topic, it does not always code discourse topic either.
Secondly, the structure of focus verbal predicates (which would have high incidence in
narrative text) permits the non-recurrence of discourse topics once they are clearly
established in thematic sentences.37
For example, we have the following sequence of sentences:
(37) Bumili ako ng mangga.
buy-AF-compl nom-1sg gen mango
‘I bought a mango.’
(38) Pinutol ko {ang mangga}
cut-GF-compl gen-1sg nom mango
‘I cut ..(it)..’
(39) Binigyan ko si Barry, {ng mangga}
give-LF-compl gen-1sg nom gen mango
‘I gave ..(some).. to Barry.’
(40) Kinain niya. {ang mangga}.
eat-GF-compl gen-3sg nom mango
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 189

‘He ate ..(it)..’

(41) Nagustuhan. {niya, ang mangga}.
like-stat-LF gen-3sg nom mango
‘..(He).. liked ..(it)…’

This sequence constitutes a discourse unit that may be referred to as a “paragraph” (e.g.
Givon 1983b). The paragraph topic is mangga (not an ang-NP in the first sentence in
which it is introduced). In this first sentence, in fact, the clause-level topic is ako. In the
second sentence (38), the paragraph topic is also the clause-level topic (ang mangga),
which is not overtly coded in this sentence (“anaphorically deleted”). In the third
sentence (39), the paragraph topic would again be a ng-NP, which is, however, again not
overtly coded in the sentence (anaphorically deleted); the clause-level topic is si Barry. In
the next sentence (40), once more the paragraph and clause-level topic functions are
conflated in ang mangga,

37 Focus indexing not only “permits” non-recurrence of the thematically established topic but it is
often demanded by discourse rules of coherence and non-redundancy. Non-recurrence of such a
topic—generally but erroneously seen as “zero anaphora” is also often employed for rhetorical
effect. (See Bresnahan (1991) and Nay lor and Bresnahan (1992).)

which is again not overtly coded (anaphorically deleted). In the last sentence (41), two
constituents are not overtly coded: ang mangga, which conflates paragraph and clause-
level topic functions, and ni Barry which is nontopic actor/agent.
In the interest of comprehensibility, I have referred to this sequence of sentences—a
discourse unit or paragraph—as involving anaphoric deletion or zero anaphora. But does
zero anaphora really take place here? Or anywhere at all? In Naylor (1985) and Naylor
and Bresnahan (1992), it is argued that within a “discourse unit”, no constituent is
anaphorically deleted; instead we have incremental predication on the initially established
topic, which is pragmatically returned to for each subsequent predication.38
On the basis of the above observations regarding the coding of topic function in clause
syntax, it should be obvious that defining clause-level topichood for the ang-NP cannot
be based solely on its relative frequency of occurrence in text nor on the relative
frequency with which it codes the discourse topic. The picture that these observations
present is two-sided: (1) that there is no one-to-one correlation between topic function
and the occurrence of the ang-NP; (2) that, in context, the clause topic ang-NP often does
not occur since it may not have been overtly coded in sentences subsequent to the
thematic one, i.e. it has been “anaphorically deleted”.39 It would thus not be possible to
determine whether or not Tagalog has topic instead of subject in clause grammar on the
basis of the greater number of occurrences alone of ang-NPs and the erroneous
underlying assumption that topics are always ang-NPs and ang-NPs are always topics.
While ang-NPs may indeed function as grammaticized clause-level topic, discourse
topics seem to be pragmatically coded, as shown by the set of sentences (“discourse unit”
or “discourse paragraph”) given above.
This being the case, the necessity of taking preceding context into account is of
paramount importance. Although context may have been taken into account and
discourse functions alluded to in some of the studies mentioned earlier, none but a very
Subject, voice and ergativity 190

few of the treatments of subject, topic and sentence structure in Tagalog, and their
distribution in text, appear to have been based on naturally occurring discourse.40
The basic syntactic structure of Tagalog verbal predications has been shown to be
identical to that of nonverbal predications which are patently

38 Halliday (1992, p. c.) agrees with this concept and says that something similar has been
observed in Chinese.
39 Cf. Naylor (1985), Bresnahan (1991) and Naylor and Bresnahan (1992).
40 The narrative text in Bloomfield (1917) does not qualify as “naturally occurring discourse”
because it was elicited, to begin with, and his informant had his “linguistic best foot forward”, i.e.
was careful to use “correct grammar”—the marked-order form of sentences that parallel English
and Spanish clause syntax, which he used far more frequently than he would in natural discourse.
This is due to the fact that we were taught that Tagalog grammar was like Spanish and English and
sentences consisted of: subject + copula (ay) + predicate. To this day, most Filipinos are not aware
that the unmarked order in Tagalog is predicate first, with no ay required.

comment-and-topic in structure. Such a structure for Tagalog verbal predications may be

further argued as follows: verbal predication is based on the focus parameter (a semantic
and pragmatic notion), which is in turn realized by the bipartite equational syntactic
structure of the clause. Given this mould in which the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic
relations between the predicate and the ang-NP are shaped, a comment-topic analysis of
Tagalog sentence structure would be truer to its form than a subject-verb-object analysis.
Furthermore, the predominance of non-verbal predications (with their clear comment-
topic structure) in Tagalog text should lend support to a topic analysis of Tagalog clause
It should be noted at this point that treatments of Tagalog grammar have focused
unduly on verbal predications, on which discussions of subject/topic in particular have
centred, to the virtual exclusion of nonverbal predications. (This may be due to the
fascination that the focus system holds.) In such circumstances, the full picture is not
likely to emerge, since as Naylor found out (1973, 1975) rather unexpectedly, non-verbal
sentences were at least as ubiquitous as verbal ones.41 Thus, the omission of such a large
body of material may have resulted in an incomplete and misleading picture of the
Tagalog system.
If nonverbal sentences, as well as sentences without an ang-NP were to be taken into
account, we would be led to the conclusion that: it is on the basis of the topic-comment
opposition that Tagalog clause structure is predicated and that the overall syntactic
structure of Tagalog predications shows that topic is its structurally relevant function.
Finally, it should be pointed out that the sort of topic that is found in Mandarin occurs
also in Tagalog. While it is not present in every sentence, it is quite common, particularly
in oral discourse.42 Bautista (personal communication, 1984) reports getting answers like:
(42) Ang bata, pinapakain ang aso.
nom child cause-eat-GF-incompl nom dog
“The child, (he is) feeding the dog.”

when children are shown a picture and asked to talk about it. Similarly, in giving me
some news of our sick cousin, a cousin said over the telephone:
(43) Si Marlan, nasa ospital na naman.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 191

nom stat/loc hospital attr again

“Marlan, (she is) in hospital again.”

41 Bresnahan (1984, p. c.) made a similar observation arising from her work on Tagalog texts
which is reiterated in Bresnahan (1991). Subsequently, Naylor (1986) studied the relative frequency
of occurrence of all sentence types in a wider variety of written and spoken genres in Tagalog. The
results of this study confirmed the earlier observation that nonverbal predications indeed occurred
with very high frequency in all genres, and in certain text types nonverbal predications proved to be
of even higher frequency relative to verbal predications.
42 The conversation material I have tape-recorded in connection with other studies abounds in
sentences of this type, which unfortunately have not as yet been described in sufficient depth and

As we can see, these topics, like those of Mandarin (and Caddo) function as: (a) theme in
the sense of point of departure, (b) delimiter of the applicability of what the predicate
says, (c) topic of discussion (discourse topic), and (d) target of predication (clause-level
It is generally believed that topic in Philippine linguistics has developed a meaning
that is unique and distinct from topic as used elsewhere in linguistics. Evidence from
discourse-based study of Tagalog sentences, however, points towards the conclusion that:
topic in Tagalog (and probably in other Philippine languages) qualifies as topic in the
general sense. What has made it seem unique and distinct in meaning is its designation as
the constituent that is the target of predication—its function as an analogue of subject in
clause syntax. However, given the concept of topic as consisting of various types and
functioning at various levels of structure that has been developed here, topic in Tagalog is
most certainly part of what linguists generally view as the notion of topic.43

6. Conclusion.

Having examined the Tagalog sentences given above and considered the discussion of the
various issues involved, we can see that the Tagalog “verb” can very well be analyzed as
a nomen actionis.
For the sake of argument, let us say that: if, on the other hand, the analysis of the
Tagalog “verb” as nomen actionis were to be rejected, it would be possible to analyze the
ang-NP as a low-level subject, using a prototype analysis as Keenan (1976b) and Comrie
(1981) have proposed. Bearing in mind, however, the basic structure of Tagalog
predications, the remarkably high incidence in discourse of patently nominal
predications, e.g., “equational sentences” whose predicates are nomina rei—“reified”
verbal words, as it were—as well as the centrality of topic in the dynamics of Tagalog
discourse (as illustrated in the analysis of the “discourse paragraph”), assigning relative
primacy to the topic function of the ang-NP should prove truer to its function within
Tagalog clause syntax and discourse structure. As Li and Thompson (1976) have pointed
out for topic prominent languages such as Chinese, even when a subject may be
identifiable, a topic analysis of the language would better reflect the way the language
Subject, voice and ergativity 192

7. Coda

7.1 Implications for the Notion of Voice in Tagalog

As regards the notion of voice in Tagalog, a comprehensive study is yet to be done.
Shibatani (1988b) and De Wolf (1988) have made some very

43 When Tagalog is viewed within this perspective, and as more of its topic constructions are taken
into account, Tagalog should reveal itself as being of the “topic prominent” type. In fact, this
suggestion has been made in Naylor (1981) which Schachter (1981, p. c.) welcomed because topic
prominence for Tagalog would show typological affinity with the geographic area in which it is

insightful observations on voice in Philippine-type languages such as Cebuano, Palauan

and Chamorro but neither has discussed voice in Tagalog per se. Bloomfield and Lopez
have referred to a voice system in Tagalog that since 1957 has been referred to as the
focus system. As a result, there has been a dearth of literature on voice in Tagalog since
contemporary Philippine linguists have addressed the concept of voice in terms of focus.
There are some troubling matters in the treatment of voice in Philippine-type
languages and Tagalog. First and foremost, voice has been identified with focus and
focus has been considered as being no more than a voice system (e.g. Hopper 1981,
personal communication; Comrie 1988). But focus is more than voice and voice is more
than focus.44
This is not a mere question of terminology. We are dealing with two complex systems
whose functions may overlap to a certain extent while differing in other ways. Again
here, we need to isolate the various components of the notion of voice and focus in order
to determine the way each system works and how the functions each codes are realized
by the syntax. Like subject/topic components, focus/voice components may be split and
coded by different grammatical forms and constructions—even within different
subsystems or levels of structure.
As a result of this identification of focus with voice, other voice oppositions at play in
Tagalog have not been recognized as such and have therefore remained outside the scope
of the broader notion of voice, as far as descriptions of Tagalog go.
For example, in Tagalog, we have stative verbal words marked by the prefix ma-
(which also marks modifier words—“adjectives” and “adverbs”).45 The verbal word
mabasag ‘to get broken’ (nonvolitional) is a stative predicate which contrasts as a class
with (active) verbal words marked by the various focus affixes such as mag- or -in- (e.g.,
magbasag ‘to break intentionally’ [volitional] or basagin ‘to get something broken
intentionally’ [volitional]). In fact, the entire verbal focus paradigm contrasts as a class
with the stative class of verbal predicates and here we may be dealing with the active-
stative opposition rather than the active-passive opposition. This contrast has not to my
knowledge been described as a voice contrast; yet it could very well be analyzed as such.
Furthermore, in the studies of voice by various contributors in Shibatani (1988c),
reference to “middle voice” was made. The stative predicates of Tagalog referred to in
the previous paragraph, in which the ang-NP is in the semantic role of undergoer or
experiencer of a state, i.e.
Subject, topic and tagalog syntax 193

44 This would require another full dissertation to argue fully, but offhand one could point to
aspectual meanings that focus codes as one way in which focus may be said to be more than voice;
similarly, voice is more than focus in that it codes transitivity relations.
45 David Bennett (1993, p. c.) points out that adjectives in Chinese are viewed as stative verbs—
which seems to parallel what can be seen in Tagalog, in which stative verbal words and modifier
words are both marked by the same stative prefix ma-.

not in control, appear to be semantically and pragmatically like the middle-voice verbs of
languages in which this verb type has been recognized. This, again, is an area of voice
that has not to my knowledge been explored in Tagalog.
Yet some questions remain. The notion of voice has been traditionally understood as
basically founded on the active-passive opposition, along with its related notions of
middle voice and the accusative-ergative distinction, and more recently, the
“antipassive”. Although the notions ergative and antipassive accommodate language
types whose putative subject constituent codes the intersection of topic and patient (rather
than topic and agent), they remain nonetheless subject-object-verb based concepts.46
Although now the consensus seems to be that the Tagalog nonactor-focus construction
is not a passive, the arguments have centred on whether or not languages like Tagalog
have a passive at all. In the light of traditional descriptions of passive which have been
formalized in most contemporary descriptions, the notion of passive rests on the notions
of subject and object. Thus, in view of what has been shown in this essay regarding the
syntactic system of Tagalog, its predication type, and its lack of verb, subject, and object
as grammatical categories, Tagalog would appear to be devoid of a system of ‘voice’ in
this sense. Indeed if subject, verb, and object do not hold for Tagalog, then passive
cannot hold either.
Limitations of space do not allow a discussion of any length of the question of
ergativity in relation to Tagalog. It should, however, be mentioned that the morphosyntax
of the focus system appears to be possibly analyzable as ergative since it closely parallels
the widely recognized ergative47 systems of non-Western Austronesian languages such as
Fijian and Tongan. Still, ergativity, like accusative and passive, is a notion based on
subject-and-object grammar. We might therefore ask: Does the opposition accusative
versus ergative apply at all to this type of language? Or, as George Milner has asked
(1986, personal communication), is it perhaps an ethnocentric concept that the traditions
of linguistic scholarship have imposed?

7.2 Voice Function

Shibatani (1988a) considers “agent defocusing” as the primary function of passive voice.
Focus, in its assignment of pragmatic prominence, provides a device for agent defocusing
by means of nonagent focusing. Thus, while the focus system has other equally important
functions, it does code the voice function that Shibatani argues for. The details have yet
to be worked out, although some may be gleaned from the work of

46 In fact the notions ergative and antipassive are based on such notions as accusative and active-
passive which emanate from a Western Europe orientation.
47 As in fact some linguists have argued.
Subject, voice and ergativity 194

Shibatani (1988b), De Wolf (1988), and Naylor (1975, 1979, and 1986).
Is voice function limited to certain specific systems in clause syntax? Or, can voice—
in its broader sense—perhaps be a certain recognizable orientation or slant realized by the
way sentences are constructed?
Tagalog is a language in which an action is more often encoded not as actor-action but
as actor-attribute. There are far more “subjectless” construction types than in English. In
Tagalog, we do not say ‘I want money’; we say ‘My desire of money’. Neither do we say
‘I have money’; instead we say ‘Money exists I (in relation to me)’. Stative sentences
occur with great frequency. Could this mean that the broader notion of voice permeates
the whole system and that “agent defocusing” is a system-wide primary pragmatic?

7.3 Tagalog as Representative of a Typology

Finally, the question arises: Can Tagalog be so uniquely different from other known
languages for an analysis as suggested in this essay to be feasible or credible?
I do not believe that it is that unique at all. Perhaps languages that exhibit features
associated with the “predominantly pragmatically based type” (after Givon 1979), and
possibly languages that have been analyzed as ergative, are really more like Tagalog,
when viewed “emically” as in the attempt made in this essay.


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B.George Hewitt

This article is divided into two sections: Part I presents the paper I read as part of the
1988–89 series of seminars on Language Typology organised by the Linguistics
Department at SOAS (London University). It restates the arguments I had adduced earlier
in the 1980s in favour of the traditional view that Georgian is, in one part of its morpho-
syntax, correctly described as ergative. After the delivery of this paper, the proponent of
the alternative view that the relevant part of Georgian’s morpho-syntax is not ergative but
rather “active” in structure, Alice Harris, published two attempted rebuttals of my
arguments. Part II of what follows contains my response to these two articles.

Part I

Today ergativity is discussed with reference to a wide variety of languages, but we

should start by recalling that it was the study of the indigenous languages of the Caucasus
that first brought the phenomenon to the attention of western European philologists;
especially significant in this regard was the series of monographs on a selection of north
Caucasian languages published about 100 years ago by the Russian soldier-linguist,
Baron Peter von Uslar. It is, thus, ironic that today it is not uncommon to read attempts at
proving this or that Caucasian language to be non-ergative. In what follows the sentential
configurations of Georgian (one of the four Kartvelian, or South Caucasian, languages)
will be re-examined.
Georgian is a rather complex language in terms of its morpho-syntax, and,
unfortunately, the argument presented below will be opaque to the reader unless he first
makes an effort to familiarise himself with the essentials of both case-marking and verb-
agreement. In order to lessen the difficulty, more space will be allotted to exemplifying
the basic patterns than would be found, were the arguments of this article being presented
to Caucasian specialists.
The marking of a verb’s major arguments is shared between three cases:
NOM[inative] (or ABSOL[utive]), in -i/Ø, DAT[ive] in -s, and the case in -m(a), which is
called in Georgian motxrobiti ‘NARR[ative]’. For the moment let us illustrate the uses of
these cases without reference to the verbal morphology: (PL=Plural)
1. st’alin-i tav-is mt’r- eb-s ga-(Ø-)žlet’-s
NOM his own enemy PL DAT
‘Stalin will exterminate his enemies’
2. st’alin-ma tav-is-i mt’r-eb-i ga-(Ø-)žlit’-a.
Subject, voice and ergativity 198

‘Stalin exterminated his enemies’

3. st’alin-s tav-is-i mt’r-eb-i ga-(Ø-)u-žlet’-i-a
‘Stalin has apparently exterminated his

We see here that the syntax of the clause involving the three cases described above
differs according to the tense-mood (or “screeve”) of the verb. In fact, we have to set up
three screeve-series, as follows: Series I incorporates Present Indicative, Present
Subjunctive, Imperfect Indicative (these three are jointly known as the Present Sub-
Series), Future Indicative, Future Subjunctive, Conditional (these three being the Future
Sub-Series); Series II consists of the Aorist Indicative (=Simple Past) and Aorist
Subjunctive (known by some as the Optative); Series III contains the Perfect, Pluperfect
and the IIIrd Subjunctive. And so we can say that for straightforward transitive verbs
such as ‘exterminate’ the transitive subject (A) will be NOM for Series I screeves, NARR
for Series II screeves, DAT for Series III screeves; equally, the direct object (O) will be
DAT for Series I screeves, NOM(/ABSOL) for Series II screeves, and NOM(/ABSOL)
again for Series III screeves.
However, this syntactic fluctuation does not apply to simple intransitive verbs, such as
the passive of the verb seen in examples (1)–(3), e.g. (GEN =Genitive)
4. st’alin-is mt’r-eb-i ga-i-žlit’-eb-i-an
‘Stalin’s enemies will be exterminated’
5. st’alin-is mt’r-eb-i ga-i-žlit’-nen
‘Stalin’s enemies were exterminated’
6. st’alin-is mt’r-eb-i ga-žlet’-il-an
‘Stalin’s enemies have apparently been

Here we see that the intransitive subject (S) remains in the NOM regardless of the
screeve-series of its verb. And so, in addition to establishing a correlation between
clausal syntactic configuration and screeve-series of the verb, we have to take into
consideration further information concerning the nature of the verb. Though we have thus
far spoken only of the opposition transitive vs intransitive, the situation in Georgian is
actually more complex.
There is a group of bi-valent, affective predicates whose “logical subject” (i.e. the
experiencer, possessor, etc…) stands in the DAT and whose “logical object” (i.e. the
experienced, possessed, etc…) stands in the NOM(/ABSOL) regardless of screeve-series,
7. st’alin-s pilm-i mo-s-c’on-s
DAT NOM he=likes=it
‘Stalin likes the film’
8. st’alin-s pilm-i mo-(Ø-)e-c’on-a
‘Stalin liked the film’
9. st’alin-s pilm-i mo-s-c’on-eb-i-a
‘Stalin apparently liked the film’
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 199

The complexity of the language is now beginning to reveal itself, but to the complexity
already reached we now have to add the details of cross-referencing affixes that stand
within the verbal complex.
The language contains two sets of agreement-affixes, thus:

Set A Agreement-affixes
1st person v- v- -t
2nd person Ø(/x)- Ø(/x)- -t
3rd person -s/a/o -(a/e)n/es/nen

Set B Agreement-affixes
1st person m- gv-
2nd person g- g- -t
3rd person Ø(/s/h)- Ø(/s/h)- (-t)

The relevant affixes were included, though not glossed, in the preceding examples, and
the nature of the cross-referencing can be neatly indicated by means of subscript As and
Bs, thus:
1’. st’alin-i tav-is ga-(Ø-
mt’r-eb-s B)žlet’-sA
2’. st’alin- tav-is-i ga-(Ø-
ma mt’r-eb-i B)žlit’-aA
3’. st’alin-s tav-is-i ga-(Ø-B)u-
mt’r-eb-i žlet’-i-aA
4’. st’alin- mt’r-eb-i ga-i-žlit’-
is eb-i-anA
5’. st’alin- mt’r-eb- ga-i-žlit’-
is iA nenA
6’. st’alin- mt’r-eb- ga-žlet’-il-
is iA anA
7’. st’alin-s pilm-i mo-sB-
8’. st’alin- pilm-iA mo-(Ø-B)e-
sB c’on-aA
9’. st’alin- pilm-iA mo-sB-
sB c’on-eb-i-
Subject, voice and ergativity 200

The affective predicates with their logical subjects in the DAT (+type-B agreement in the
verb) and their logical objects in the NOM(/ABSOL) (+type-A agreement in the verb) IN
ALL SERIES need detain us no longer, as this clausal morpho-syntactic configuration is
simply regarded as an inversion of the basic pattern for Georgian—these verbs are thus
known as “Inverted” verbs.
The picture so far as it concerns the straightforward transitives and intransitives can be
summarised as follows: transitive (or Class 1) verbs take NOM subjects (As) with type-A
agreement and DAT objects (Os) with type-B agreement in Series I vs NARR As with
type-A agreement and NOM/ABSOL Os with type-B agreement in Series II vs DAT As
with type-B agreement and NOM/ABSOL Os with type-A agreement in Series III.
Intransitive (or Class 2) verbs take NOM(/ABSOL) subjects (Ss) with type-A agreement
in ALL Series.
We, thus, have three patterns for the case-marking (plus verbal agreement) of the main
arguments of the verb, namely [N.B. that for the sake of completeness I add the marking
of the Indirect Object even though this argument has not been mentioned in any of the

Case-marking Patterns & Verb-agreement

Pattern iii DATB NOMA GEN + -tvis ‘for’

In tabular form the correlation between these patterns and the two classes of verb with
which we are still concerned is:
Series I Series II Series III
Class 1 ii i iii
Class 2 ii ii ii

If we now recall that we talk of Nominative-Accusativity where A and S are treated alike
to the exclusion of O, whereas we talk of Ergative-Absolutivity where S and O are treated
alike to the exclusion of A, comparison of examples (1) and (3) (or (1’) and (3’)) shews
that in Series I the syntactic configuration of Georgian is Nominative-Accusative. This is
so because A and S both stand in the NOM and require type-A agreement with the verb,
whilst O stands in the DAT and takes type-B agreement on the verb. In Series III, on the
other hand, we would seem to have a purely Ergative-Absolutive configuration, since S
and O stand in the NOM/ ABSOL and take type-A agreement, whereas A stands in the
DAT and requires type-B agreement on the verb—compare examples (3) and (6) or (3’)
and (6’). However, in discussing the relevance of ergativity to Georgian reference is not
normally made to the morpho-syntax of Series III. This is because all commentators
agree that in some sense the DAT noun with Series III transitives represents an Indirect
Object (IO), such that the construction is again an inversion of some basic pattern that is
best treated as a distinct phenomenon of “Inverted” verb-forms.
What, then, of Series II? Here, on the evidence provided so far, we appear to be
dealing with a kind of “split” ergativity—comparison of examples (2) and (4) or (2’) and
(4’) reveals that in terms of case-marking the system is Ergative (S and O in the
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 201

NOM/ABSOL vs A in the NARR), but in terms of cross-referencing the system is

Nominative-Accusative (A and S require Set-A affixes, O requires Set-B). On this type of
split see the discussion by R.M.W.Dixon (1979.85ff.).
Were the above all that Georgian had to offer, the analysis of Series II as being of the
“split” Ergative type would be straightforward. But we have yet to introduce the final
verb-class—if simple transitives make up Class 1, simple intransitives make up Class 2,
and the affective predicates make up Class 4, what constitutes Class 3? These are the so-
called Middle or Medial verbs, for which case-marking and verb-agreement are identical
with those of Class 1 and yet these verbs comparatively rarely appear with a Direct
Object, e.g.
10. st’alin-i t’ir-i-sA // i-t’ir-eb-sA
‘Stalin is crying//will cry’
11. st’alin-ma i-t’ir-aA
‘Stalin cried’
12. st’alin-s (Ø-B)u-t’ir-(n-)i-aA
‘Stalin apparently cried’

Two questions now arise: 1. with what does the Set-A affix on the verb in (12) correlate?
2. how can the clausal configuration in Series II still be viewed as Ergative, if seemingly
intransitive Medials take NARR rather than NOM/ABSOL subjects in Series II?
Faced with these facts, A.C.Harris has proposed the following argument (1981, and
subsequently 1985): Class 1 verbs have semantically agentive subjects (i.e. those that act
voluntarily, volitionally and are in control of events); two types of intransitive subjects
may be distinguished—agentive and non-agentive, the former being typically Class 3
subjects, the latter typically those of Class 2; thus, it is not Ergativity but Activity that
determines case-marking in Series II (and also in Series III); this semantic distinction is
given formal expression within the framework of Relational Grammar by assigning Class
3 verbs an initial subject (SA)—if a regular DO is present, the verb will presumably have
A and O—whereas inactive intransitive verbs will be assigned only an initial O [sic!],
which will advance to final subjecthood (SO) by the rule styled “Unaccusative”; case-
marking in Series II will assign the NARR to final subjects (A/SA) that are also initial
subjects (A/SA) but the NOM to final subjects (and DOs) that are initial Os (SO).
Harris recognises that the literary language presents some problems, such as the
obvious exceptions seen in example (13):
13. is (*man) c’a-vid-a/a-dg-a/da-c’v-a/
‘X went/stood up/lay down/sat down’

But she maintains that the Active system has been regularised in a variety of dialects
(such as western Gurian and eastern K’axetian). And so the question has to be put as to
whether the Active hypothesis might not better account for the facts of Georgian outlined
If one examines the language more closely, one finds that the anomalies as far as the
Active hypothesis is concerned are not exhausted by the examples given as (13). It
Subject, voice and ergativity 202

transpires that there are numerous Class 2 verbs that are proto-typically active and yet
require NOM subjects in the literary language. Indeed, it sometimes happens that a verb
from this list of problem-cases is paralleled by a verb formed on the same root but
belonging to a different class—with the opposition: bivalent Class 2 in (14) vs bivalent
Class 3 (15), both meaning ‘X aided Y’:
14. is mas mi-(Ø-B)e-švel-aA
15. man mas (Ø-B)u-švel-aA

compare a parallel (albeit bivalent vs superficially monovalent) opposition for the root
“wrestle” in:
16. is mas da-(-Ø-B)e-č’id-aA
‘X wrestled with Y’
17. man i-č’ida-v-aA
‘X wrestled’

Even within the non-literary dialects all sorts of anomalies exist. Gurian was first
mentioned in 1936 in connection with the notion akt’iuroba ‘activity’, when Zhghent’i
suggested that this was what explained the use of the NARR to mark some Class 2
subjects in Series II in that dialect. And yet, in more recently published material for
Gurian one can easily find the NOM with “active” Class 2 predicates in Series II as well
as NARR subjects alongside patently mactive predicates, such as:
18. a-m-i-k’ank’al-d-aA tval-e-ma
‘My eyes began to flutter’ (lit. ‘the eyes
began to flutter for me’)

Clearly something interesting is happening here, but I suggest that it has nothing
whatsoever to do with the semantic opposition advocated by Harris. We shall return to
this later.
Amongst the Medials there are many which cannot be considered to be proto-typically
Active—for example all the weather-expressions as well as:
19. is vs man
‘It will boil’ vs ‘It boiled’

But the main problem with the Active hypothesis is its neglect of the morphological
element i-, found in Medials in Series II as well as in the Future Sub-Series of Series I.
This element can be seen in the verbs of (19), and indeed it forms part of the very
diagnostic of the Medial class, defined by D.A.Holisky (1981) as those verbs which form
their Futures solely by means of the circumfix i-[ROOT]-eb-.
The traditional explanation, advanced by such specialists as A. Shanidze (1973) and
G.Deeters (1930), is that we are dealing with the same prefix as is seen in the so-called
subjective “version” forms of the causative of the relevant root, which forms, it is
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 203

assumed, must have been borrowed to make up for the missing screeves of the Medials.
In other words, in origin the Medials are assumed to have existed only with screeves in
the Present Sub-Series; as the language felt the need to use these predicates outside this
sub-series, the absent forms were not independently created but rather borrowed by
adaptation of forms already existing in the language, namely the subjective version forms
of the causative form of the relevant roots. Consider the Medial v-bat’on-ob ‘I am
master’. Taking the nominal root bat’oni ‘master’ here, we can produce in the Aorist the
causative in the shape of the Class 1 ga-v-a-bat’on-e davit-i ‘I made David master’. In its
subjective version form, which is used when the subject is acting on something belonging
to him or in his own interests, this will produce, for example, ga-v-i-bat’on-e jma// tav-i
‘I made my own brother//myself master’. Compare this with the actual Aorist form of the
Medial with which we started, namely v-i-bat’on-e—two features stand out: 1.there is no
reflexive element tav-i now accompanying the verb, and so we must hypothesise that
such an element, presumably originally present to motivate the appearance of the
subjective version vowel in the verb, must have disappeared in the course of time because
of its predictability; 2. there is no preverb ga- in the Medial, the absence of which, as
Holisky argued convincingly, can be explained by pointing out that its perfectivising role
is incompatible with the atelic aspect of the Medial verb-class as a whole1.
Personally, I should be happy to regard the reflexive DO pronoun tav-(in the
appropriate case) to be present underlyingly in synchronic Georgian. This view would
make the Series II configuration Ergative even today—the underlyingly present reflexive
DO, which of course must then be assumed to be obligatorily deleted by a relatively low-
level rule that operates once case-marking and verb-agreement have applied, is
recoverable from the i-prefix it imposes on the verb (sc. outside the Present Sub-Series,
which sub-series can be regarded for most Medial verbs as intransitive without
difficulty). But since even the father of twentieth century Georgian philology, Akaki
Shanidze, underlined the intransitivity of Medials in their normal guise, colleagues may
feel that such perceptions on the part of native speakers argue against such an
interpretation synchronically, which would force the conclusion that we

1 For the sake of completeness it should be noted that preverbs are permitted to occur with Medial
verbs but with a quite specific nuance, namely that the action was a one-off. Compare the normal
Medial i-q’ep-a ‘it barked (sc.possibly for 5 minutes)’ vs da-i-q’ep-a ‘it let out a single bark’.

have here an anomaly whereby the morphosyntax is a relic of an original transitivity, now
Before considering dialectal developments, let us mention a further argument in
favour of the transitivity of Medials outside the Present Sub-Series, namely the inverted
construction of Series III. If there is an underlying (or historically original) DO present,
we can account for the bivalent morphology that is part of inverted Series III forms (cf.
example (12)). Now, let us recall that for Harris the dialects have regularised Activity,
which must mean that within them the “regularised” active predicates of Class 2 will
have been assigned an initial SA, thereby explaining why their subjects take the NARR in
Series II. But since she also argues that Inversion in Series III is sensitive to initial A/SA,
all these “regularised” predicates should shew inversion in the dialects concerned—they
do not! And the reason must be that they are simple intransitive Class 2 verbs that take a
Subject, voice and ergativity 204

normal NOM intransitive subject in all screeves (sc. except in those dialectal exceptional
instances where for some reason the NARR is employed in Series II).
So what of the dialects? A further glance at Georgian’s case-marking patterns reveals
that, whereas both the NOM and DAT may function as either subject or direct object
according to verb-series, the NARR serves uniquely to mark subjects (sc. of transitive
verbs in Series II). Is it too far-fetched to suppose that in the dialects where the NARR is
attested with other than Class 1 verbs in Series II those dialects are merely capitalising on
the NARR’s unique role by extending it to other subjects in this Series? Since most Class
1 subjects are typically active, in Harris’ sense, it may well be that the first Class 2
subjects to take the NARR in Series II will be those that are also felt to be more of the
active type, but in essence, I suggest, it is simply Aorist subject-marking that motivates
the extension of the NARR in Series II. This is surely what happened in Georgian’s
sister-language, Mingrelian, where today the equivalent of Georgian’s NARR marks ALL
subjects in Series II irrespective of verb-class. Mingrelian thus seems to have anticipated
what is currently occurring in some Georgian dialects and to have carried the extension to
its logical conclusion. Perhaps significantly, Mingrelian is spoken immediately to the
north of Gurian (see the earlier part of our discussion).
I conclude that the Series II configuration in Georgian is interpretable ONLY as being
of the Ergative type historically (and, I think one could argue, synchronically too), such
that the usual description of the case in -m(a) as Ergative is fully justified. The basis is
obviously there for the future development of a Harris-type Active system in some
dialect, but this has patently not developed yet. The change in the dialects can be
explained by natural extension of the most marked subject-case in Georgian to all verbs
in Series II. This change in Georgian dialects is still in progress; in Mingrelian it has run
its course.

Part II

The arguments presented above represent a (part) restatement or summary of views that I
have had occasion to publish elsewhere in a variety of places, viz. my review-article
(1983) of Harris’ Georgian Syntax, my article in Lingua (1987a), and my review-article
(1987b) of Harris’ Diachronic Syntax. Harris herself has not merely chosen to ignore
these criticisms but has gone onto the offensive with two articles of her own (1990a, and
1990b). And so, I shall take this opportunity to respond to those of her counter-proposals
that perhaps merit some comment.
She observes that her second book was essentially, as its name implies, a diachronic
investigation of the history of the Kartvelian language-family and yet my review is
criticised for concentrating on synchronic aspects of the relevant languages. The trouble
is that her historical study is meant to trace the development of the opposition Active vs
Inactive in at least three of the modern languages, whereas I hope to have shewn
convincingly that no such opposition has yet been developed in any of them. If it is
accepted that my view is correct, then an obvious conclusion follows from this, namely,
as I said at the start of my second review-article, that: “It will, therefore, hardly surprise
anybody that I find no merit in seeking to trace back to the parent-language, which is
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 205

what Harris is here essaying, a phenomenon that does not actually exist”. What more
needs to be said?
Harris objects to my taking her definition of Activity and then saying of such and such
a verb in Georgian that, despite taking a Narrative subject in some particular dialect in
Series II, it clearly does not conform to her concept of Activity. She says (1990b.128):
“The choice of these terms was also supported by native speaker linguists’
characterizations of these groups of verbs as active and inactive”, naming
P’.Dzhadzhanidze, who worked on his native Gurian, and V.Topuria. We could add to
these the names of S.Zhghent’i and Z.Sardzhveladze, all of whom have mentioned
akt’iuroba in connection with the non-standard use of the Narrative to mark subjects in
Series II. If one reads the relevant works, one will find that these linguists offer NO
precise definition of what they had/have in mind in employing the term akt’iuroba. In
other words, they are being no more precise than I. The first three on this list are dead,
but I did once venture to enquire of the fourth what specifically he had in mind when
attempting this explanation of the phenomenon under investigation. He replied that he
had nothing special in mind and only used the term because he had come across reference
to it in the works of others! To take one of Zhghent’i’s examples, I defy anyone to
present a convincing argument in favour of viewing the subject of his Gurian illustration
man daberda ‘X(NARR) grew old’ as acting volitionally and being in control of the verbal
One of the crucial arguments against Harris’ assumption that in certain non-literary
dialects clearly Active predicates have been assigned an initial S(A) and thus have their
subjects marked by the Narrative in Series II is that (if we assume, as we are surely
entitled to, that this same initial S(A) is present when the verbs are used in Series III) they
ought to exhibit inversion in Series III, since inversion is, according to Harris, sensitive to
the presence of initial S(A) with verbs in general, whereas in fact they exhibit no such
phenomenon. Harris complains that I produce no examples to support my claim, so that
(she says) she has no choice but to ignore it. The point is that there ARE no examples of
this phenomenon, and their lack of existence is precisely the difficulty that Harris should
be addressing!
It is part of Harris’ historical argument that the Medial (Class 3) verbs have been
reanalysed (from taking Nominative to taking Narrative subjects) in the course of the
development of South Caucasian. As I stressed in my second review (§4.4), her examples
from Old Georgian simply do not stand up. However, she also maintains that there is one
sub-dialect of Svan where the competing forms still exist side by side; this is Laxamulan.
For her, both the following examples are Medial:
(20) dina ädšdiral
girl/NOM play(AORIST)
‘The girl played’
(21) dina-d ädšdirale
girl-NARR play(AORIST)
‘The girl played’

On the basis of (written and/or verbal) comments by native Svans, including M.Kaldani,
a native speaker of Laxamulan, I ventured to suggest that only the second of such pairs
(viz. where the 3rd person singular Aorist ends in -e and the subject is in the Narrative)
should be analysed as Medial, whereas the other verb (I argued) is actually a special
Subject, voice and ergativity 206

Laxamulan simple intransitive (Class 2) form, which then naturally takes a Nominative
subject. Kaldani himself in a footnote in one of the articles of his to which Harris herself
refers states that in such intransitive forms the suffix -al- functions as a marker of
iterativity (mravalgzisoba), whereas Harris regards this suffix as being purely
derivational. Harris refuses to comment on the contents of this interesting (and surely
crucial) footnote and states that, as a linguist, I should be aware that a semantic function
can be assigned to some exponent only when an alternative exists such that the lack of the
relevant exponent is accompanied by loss of the semantic feature in question. She says
that there is no alternative here and refers me to a recent article by K’.Gagua (1988),
which is supposed to support the interpretation of the suffix -al- as one of derivation. In
the first place, Gagua does not even mention the verb-forms that are peculiar to the
Laxamulan sub-dialect, which were the ones Kaldani specifically described as indicating
iterativity and which I urged Harris to classify as Class 2 verbs. And secondly Harris
overlooks the very point that she herself brought to the attention of all the readers who
had not independently discovered the fact from reading Kaldani’s article for themselves,
namely that there IS an alternative in Laxamulan, albeit of a morpho-syntactic rather than
purely morphologically privative type—it is the very alternative shewn above, such that
iteratively (if we are to believe Kaldani, and he is the native speaker after all is said and
done!) the Class 2 intransitive with Nominative subject is selected, otherwise the Medial
with derivational suffix -al- and Narrative subject, emerges. I do not claim to be an expert
on Svan, much less on the Laxamulan sub-dialect, but on the basis of what the real
experts have written, I still prefer not to follow Harris’ idiosyncratic analysis.
Finally, I come to the absolutely central argument, namely Harris’ refusal to accept
that the i-prefix, which is a fundamental feature of all Medials in Series II (and, of course,
in the Future Sub-Series of Series I), is crucially linked to the selection of the Narrative
case to mark the subject of such verbs in Series II. Though I accepted in my second
review (§4.2) that there is no one-to-one correspondence between an i-prefix and the
presence of a Narrative subject in Series II, clearly I have to say something more to try
and convince the American theorist of the error of her ways. I wish to quote from §418 of
the late Ak’ak’i Shanidze’s monumental book on Georgian grammar (1973). It should be
recalled that the i-prefix in use with the Medials was termed above the Subjective
Version vowel, and one should also bear in mind that Medials for Shanidze were known
as Medio-active verbs. “A verb of active voice is, in general, transitive; the subjective
version too is transitive, but in Georgian there often takes place the employment of a
subjective versional form as an intransitive. This occurs in the medio-active verbs…,
which turn to the subjective versional form of the active voice of their very own root in
order to fill in their missing forms: cxovrobs, cxovrobda, cxovrobdes [Present, Imperfect
& Present Subjunctive of the verb ‘live’—BGH] but i-cxovrebs, i-cxovra [Future &
Aorist of the same verb—BGH]. Today we understand these as forms of one and the
same verb…but in origin they were different verbs: i-cxovrebs is the subjective version
which has as its neutral version a-cxovrebs [‘X makes Y live’—BGH]. But this form of
the subjective version is drained of any versional content by virtue of the fact that it has
been deprived of its direct object and, as a verb that has been left objectless, has become
intransitive. Despite this, it has retained two markers of a transitive verb, the one
syntactic, the other morphological: (a) with IInd Series forms it takes its subject in the
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 207

Narrative case…, (b) forms of the IIIrd Series are produced through inversion and, linked
to this, its subject stands in the Dative…
“The verb acxovra has both subject and direct object: k’ot’em k’argad acxovra col-
švili [’K’ot’e gave wife and child a good life’—BGH]. By the way, as direct object the
reflexive pronoun tavi is also possible with it (tavs saca unda vacxovreb [’I shall settle
myself down wherever it proves necessary’—BGH] (Vazha Pshavela, V,6,11). But what
on earth is the direct object with the subjective versional icxovra man? ‘What’ did it
‘make live’?—seemingly tavi [’itself’—BGH], which was lost, since it was the one and
only [possible object] and thus easily understood. Because of the loss of its object the
verb lost its transitivity and thus came to match the Medial and took upon itself the
function of filling the Medial’s missing forms. Only its syntactic force in the IInd and
IIIrd Series and the morphological indicator in the IIIrd Series (inversion) remind us of its
active [sc. voice—BGH] formation.”
As I have said right from the start of my dispute with Harris, my interpretation of
Series II (and III) forms of Medial verbs is nothing more than an extension of the
traditional views of G.Deeters (1930) and A. Shanidze. This lengthy quote from the latter
surely clarifies the issue. The difference between myself and Shanidze is simply this:
once the borrowing had been effected, Shanidze assumes the borrowed forms to have
taken on the intransitivity of the basic verbs to which they were attached as fillers. I
happen not necessarily to share this belief. If one DOES share it, then one can easily see
how, as I have repeatedly acknowledged, the pattern is there in Georgian for the future
development of an Active/Inactive axis in Series II, which would follow from an
extension of the Medial verbs’ Narrative subject-marking to other semantically active
predicates, though, as I have (I think) demonstrated, this has not yet occurred in any
Georgian dialect. Rather, I assume that the borrowing entailed the carrying over of the
borrowed forms’ transitivity. Shanidze also, interestingly, seems implicitly to be hinting
at this when he talks of an understood direct object tavi being easily suppliable from the
morphological structure of the verb. Note that, although one does not HAVE to use the
subjective version even when the verb has a member of the subject’s family or indeed the
reflexive tavi as its direct object, nevertheless it is the undeniable close association
between reflexive pronoun and subjective version in transitive verb-forms that allows
Shanidze to say that the supposition of a reflexive direct object is motivated by the
presence of the subjective version vowel in these forms. Let us not forget that both
Shanidze and Deeters were writing in an age of linguistic study that did not have at its
disposal the notion of underlying structure. This is why I have said that one can go on
interpreting these Medials (outside the Present Sub-Series) as synchronically transitive by
assuming the presence of the reflexive direct object until the operation of a very late rule
that obligatorily deletes it, even though the verb’s transitivity is left intact by virtue of its
bipersonal morphological marking (especially in Series III). If one does not like this
interpretation, I have suggested that one takes the diachronic view, concluding that the
morphology and case-marking is an anachronism reflecting the forms’ historical
transitivity. Either way, the syntactic configuration in Series II remains in essence
In support of the argument that, even in the absence at the surface of a direct object,
one can easily be supplied by virtue of the presence in a verb of patently active-voice
morphology of the subjective version vowel, I shall also quote an interesting passage
Subject, voice and ergativity 208

about a small group of Old Georgian verbs from the late Ivane Imnaishvili (1971.335 to
338): “An argument is also lacking to a group of verbs of subjective version which
formally look very much like i-prefixal passives. In this case it is the direct object that is
lacking. We have in mind such verbs as: še-i-šin-es, še-i-rcxv-in-es, mi-i-mart-a, i-vn-o,
gan-i-prtx-o (today their meaning would be conveyed by [the Class 2 forms—BGH]: še-
šin-d-nen ‘they took fright’, še-rcxv-nen ‘they felt shame’, ga-e-mart-nen ‘they set
out’, e-vn-o ‘he was harmed’, gamo-pxizl-d-a ‘he sobered up’). In general these verbs
are understood as monovalent, not taking a second argument. Because verbs of this type
are understood as monovalent and have a form that parallels the i-prefixal passives (sc.
they take i- as their formant), one could suppose them to be i-prefixal passives. People
have thought and written this. But no. These verbs in origin are of active voice, with the
i-prefix manifesting the subjective version. The direct object is lost here for the reason,
we must suppose, that from the very start there was only one that was possible, and this
was the one that was implied by the very verb-form. In time the verb became fossilised in
this form, so that there was absolutely no need to state the object. In subjective version
forms it is usually some part of a person’s body that is implied as the direct object: da-i-
ban-a (p’iri) ‘X washed (his face)’2, ga-i-k’rič’-a (tma) ‘X cut (his hair)’, mo-i-p’ars-a
(p’iri, c’veri) ‘X shaved (his face, beard)’,…i-brun-a (p’iri) ‘X turned (his face)’ etc.
And our verbs are like this too: še-i-šin-a (tavi or guli) [‘X made afraid (himself or his
heart)’], še-i-rcxv-in-a (tavi) [‘X made ashamed (himself)’], mi-i-mart-a (p’iri) [‘X set
(his face) in that direction’], i-vn-o (tavi) [‘X injured (himself)’].
“That these verbs are in origin of the active voice and that the i- is the subjective
version is confirmed by certain indicators preserved by these verbs: (a) the problematic
verbs are sometimes actually accompanied by a subject in the Narrative case,… (b) they
can take a direct object,… (e) in the Present (Ist Series) the suffix -eb is not followed by
the obligatory passive-marker -i [and thus they are active voice forms—BGH]”.
Surely the parallel between this group of verbs in Old Georgian and what has become
the regular non-Present Sub-Series formation for the Medial verbs that has now taxed us
for so long must be clear to absolutely everyone?! Readers may like to know that a
Georgian linguist, L.Enukidze(1989), has also reviewed Harris’ second book.
Interestingly Enukidze takes Harris to task over just the points for which I too have
criticised her, namely the treatment of Medials in Series II, inversion,

2 In her second reply Harris observes that in my 1987 Lingua-article I erroneously stated that the
verb da-i-ban-a means ‘X washed (sc. all over)’ regardless of whether the direct object tavi is
present or not. As Harris correctly states, when this object is actually present, the meaning can only
be ‘X washed his head’. Thus, this verb(-phrase) cannot be taken to support any optional deletion
of the reflexive direct object pronoun-substitute tavi, as I was arguing at that juncture. However,
my faith in the correctness of the traditional explanation of the non-Present Sub-Series formations
in the Medials is in no way shaken by this correction. As both Shanidze and Imnaishvili clearly
state, the problematic i-vowel does imply some direct object, and in the majority of Medials this
can most simply be assumed to be tavi. That we have parallel deletion of an appropriate direct
object in the case of some non-Medials, as illustrated here by Imnaishvili, supports this
explanation, even if in the particular case of da-i-ban-a the deleted element is not the reflexive; as
Harris helpfully notes, da-i-ban-a and da-i-ban-a t’ani, where t’ani means ‘body’, are synonymous
for the meaning ‘X washed (sc. all over)’. I thank Harris for her emendation.
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 209

and the analysis of synthetic vs analytic passives in Georgian, which I discussed in my

review of Harris’ first book. If there is any other Kartvelologist (as opposed to theoretical
linguists, who tend to know little or nothing about Georgian and the sister-languages)
who shares Harris’ interpretation of Georgian, I do not know of any. The basic problem
with Harris’ approach is that for her theory is paramount, the language(s) of investigation
secondary. I have never been able to accept this concept of linguistic study, since in the
final analysis linguistics itself cannot retain any respectability unless its theories arise
naturally out of the facts of natural language. To do violence to a language by laying it on
some Procrustean bed to make it fit the requirements of this or that preconceived theory
is ultimately to damage the very discipline for the advancement of which we choose to

This article has (re-)examined one portion of the morpho-syntactic structure of Georgian,
which has traditionally been regarded as manifesting the phenomenon of ergativity,
though a more recent attempt has been made to argue in favour of its being interpreted as
an illustration of ‘activity’. My view remains what it has been from the start, namely that
the traditional explanation is the only convincing one. I admit, however, that the state of
the language is such that a re-alignment cannot be excluded whereby at some future time
the relevant section of Georgian grammar might conceivably come to reflect the active vs
inactive opposition. For the time being it is best to see developments in the non-literary
dialects as an understandable extension of the exclusively subject-marking properties of
the Narrative case-marker, which is thus correctly designated ‘Ergative’.
Since completing the substance of the above article an interesting example has come
to my attention. It was produced by a native of the eastern region of K’axeti during an
appalling documentary broadcast in Great Britain on 8th December 1992 on the TV-
channel BBC2 dealing with the current political situation in Georgia in the series of
‘Assignment’ programmes—the uttering of the relevant example thus rescues the
programme as far as Kartvelology is concerned from the oblivion which it otherwise
deserves! The example reads as follows:
(22) q’vela tanasc’orad unda vcxovrebuliq’avit
all(NOM) equally must we=had=lived
‘We all had to live on the same level’

As we know from the earlier extensive quotation from Shanidze, the verb cxovr-ob ‘you
live’ is a Medial and should thus undergo inversion in Series III. The Pluperfect is a
Series III form, and the literary norm for example (22) would be:
(23) q’vela-s tanasc’orad unda gvecxovra
DAT we=had=lived

Clearly a reinterpretation of this verb has taken place here, but it is a reinterpretation
which does not help the Harris analysis. Harris’ hypothesis supposes that ‘active’
intransitives are accompanied by an SA, which in Series III triggers inversion, such that
the intransitive but ‘active’ subject stands in the Dative case, and it is this pattern that
presumably should be extended to all ‘active’ intransitives (along with Narrative marking
Subject, voice and ergativity 210

of their subjects in Series II), if Georgian should ever undergo an active vs inactive re-
alignment. Example (22), on the other hand, reveals that for the K’axetian speaker
concerned the verb ‘live’ has simply been re-classified as a Class 2 intransitive, as is clear
both from the morphological structure of the verb and from the Nominative case-marking
of its subject. I predict that this same speaker, if asked, would produce a ‘normal’ Series
II morpho-syntax (namely man icxovra ‘X(NARR) lived’). This would have as its
consequences that (a) I could no longer argue that, for this idiolect, there was anything
truly ergative about the morpho-syntax of Series II, (b) Harris could no longer argue that
her ‘activity’-hypothesis was relevant (for, as presently conceived, such verbs have to
undergo inversion in Series III), whereas (c) I could still happily account for the presence
of the Narrative case on the Series II subject in terms of the extension of this case from
being a subject-marker with strictly transitive verbs in Series II to being the Series II
subject-marker period.

ABSOL Absolutive
NARR Narrative
DAT Dative
NOM Nominative
GEN Genitive
PL Plural


Deeters, G. 1930. Das kharthwelische Verbwn. Leipzig: Kommissionsverlag von Markert und
Dixon, R.M.W. 1979. Ergativity. In Language 55.1, 59–138.
Enukidze, L. 1989. Review of Alice C.Harris Georgian Syntax: A Study in Relational Grammar.
Annual of Ibero-Caucasian Linguistics, XVI, 326–334.
Gagua, K’. 1988. sašuali gvaris zmnata erti saxeobisatvis svanurši, Ibero-Caucasian Linguistics,
XXVII, 227–239.
Harris, A.C. 1981. Georgian Syntax: A Study in Relational Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Harris, A.C. 1985. Syntax and Semantics 18: Diachronic Syntax—The Kartvelian Case. New York:
Academy Press.
Harris, A.C. 1990a. Georgian: a language with active case marking. Lingua, 80, 347–365.
Harris, A.C. 1990b. Reply to B.George Hewitt. Revue des Etudes Géorgiennes et Caucasiennes, 5,
Hewitt, B.G. 1983. Review-article of Alice C.Harris Georgian Syntax: A Study in Relational
Grammar. Lingua, 59, 247–274.
Hewitt, B.G. 1987a. ‘Georgian: Ergative or Active?’ Lingua, 71, 319–340.
Hewitt, B.G. 1987b. Review-article of Alice C.Harris Diachronic Syntax: The Kartvelian Case.
Revue des Etudes Géorgiennes et Caucasiennes, 3, 173–213.
Holisky, D.A. 1981. Aspect and Georgian Medial Verbs. New York: Caravan Books.
Georgian-ergative, active, or what? 211

Imnaishvili, I. 1971. Historical Chrestomathy of the Georgian Language (vol. I, part II). Tbilisi:
University Press.
Shanidze, A. 1973. kartuli enis gramat’k’is sapujvlebi. Tbilisi: University Press.
Zhghent’i, S. 1936. guruli k’ilo. Tbilisi: Mecniereba.
Tim Farrell


1.1 Objectives.
The aim of this paper is to examine the nature and function of the ergative construction in
Balochi. It also focuses on ‘splits’ in ergativity, looking at tense/aspect splits, animacy
hierarchy splits, active splits and discourse splits. Some authors (notably Trask 1979 and
Anderson 1977) have regarded ergativity in general and splits in ergativity in particular
as requiring explanation in terms of diachronic origins and synchronic motivations.
Attention will be paid in this paper to the question of the origins and motivations for
ergativity and split ergativity. This paper concludes that ergativity in Balochi is a
‘surface’ phenomenon more attributable to diachronic processes than synchronic
motivation, but that the morphology has a complex relationship with many other areas of
the grammar. In addition, the splits in ergativity in Balochi may reveal a pattern of
diachronic loss of ergativity.

1.2 Balochi
Balochi is a Northwestern Iranian language, of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian, of the
Indo-European language family. However, Balochi is situated in the South Eastern corner
of the Iranian language group. There are a number of dialects of Balochi. Elfenbein
(1966) lists six dialects and five subdialects. In this paper material from two dialects will
be considered, from the Western and Southern dialects.

1.3 Data
Most of the data described here are the result of work with several mother tongue
speakers. That from the Southern dialect (specifically as spoken in Karachi, Pakistan), is
mainly from Mr. Abdul Razaq, a 28-year-old law student and that from the Western
dialect (in this case Nushki/Quetta), is mainly from Mr. Abdul Haleem Sadiq, a 29-year-
old University lecturer. The data is taken largely from continuous unelicited narrative
texts which I taped in Quetta in 1986 and Karachi in 1987/88 and later transcribed.
Additional material is taken from other sources, either elicited text or other authors. The
data is transcribed using the I.P.A. system apart from the use of [c] for [t∫], [j] for [ ] and
[y] for [j].
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 213


In order to discuss ergativity in Balochi it is first necessary to grasp some of the

complexities of the case system. These complexities arise not from the number of cases
but from the rules which govern their syntactic distribution.

2.1 Case markers

Balochi has no marking for gender but has marking for person and number. It has:
(i) a direct case with zero marking, used for nominative, absolutive and unidentified
patient marking (even if accusative).
(ii) a genitive case (singular /-e/, plural/-ani/).
(iii) a vocative case (singular zero, plural /-ã/).
(iv) an oblique case (singular /-a/, plural /-ã/), used for ergative, locative, dative and
identified accusative patient marking.
(v) a ‘dative’ case (singular /-ara/, plural /ana/ or /anã/), which can be used for indirect
objects, ‘identified’ and/or emphasised patients and experiencer/victims. The singular
‘dative’ case cannot be used for ergative marking, but the plural ‘dative’ case has
merged with the oblique case in Karachi Balochi and can be used in all oblique
functions. For emphasised 3rd person direct patients in the perfective, the ‘dative’ may
be used but the oblique cannot be.
Figure one shows the case system in Karachi Balochi:

Direct Vocative Genitive Oblique Dative

Sg. ø ø -e -a -ara
Pl. ø -ã -ani -ã (ana/- -ana/-
anã) anã

(Figure 1)
These endings apply to substantives while pronouns have their own irregularities.

2.2 Identified Object Marking (IOM)

One feature of the case marking system of Balochi is that, in common with a number of
South Asian languages, Balochi has a system of marking ‘identified’ patients as opposed
to ‘unidentified’ patients. Klaiman (1987) refers to this type of patient marking using
Masica’s term of ‘identified object marking’ (IOM) which is defined in terms of animacy
and definiteness. Klaiman says (1987:76) “In Hindi, an inanimate O (Object) with
indefinite reference is not usually case marked, but an inanimate O with definite
reference is sometimes marked, and an O which is animate may be marked; while an
animate O with definite reference is almost always marked.” In Hindi/Urdu this IOM is
marked by a separate marker /ko/ as in:
1. ne sita ko dekh-a
I ERG there Sita OBJ see-PAST
Subject, voice and ergativity 214

‘I saw Sita there.’

(adapted from Klaiman.)

However in Balochi there is no separate marker for IOM; instead the oblique is used.
IOM marking applies thus in the non-perfective (see section 3.5) in Balochi:
these-OBL sell do-1Sg then goat-DIR
‘I will sell these and buy goats.’

Note that /1∫-ã/ (referring to chickens previously mentioned) is definite and thus marked
accusatively, whereas /pəs/ ‘goats’ refers to goats in general and thus is left unmarked.
The presence or absence of the Oblique marks the definiteness of the object:
3. a-ø kitab-a dã
he-DIR I-OBL book-OBL give.PRES(3Sg)
‘He gives me the book.’
4. a-ø kitab-ø dã
he-DIR I-OBL book-DIR give.PRES(3Sg)
‘He gives me book(s).’
5. a-ø kitab-e-ø dã
‘He gives me a book.’


3.1 Case marking in the perfective

First I want to consider case marking in the simple tenses. In Balochi, in common with a
number of Indo-Iranian languages, there is ergative/ absolutive marking in the perfective
as opposed to nominative/accusative marking in the non-perfective (see section 3.5 for
defining the perfective). This tense/aspect split operates according to the typological
universal that (Trask 1979:385) “it is always the past tense or the perfective aspect which
is ergative, while the non-past or imperfective verb forms show accusative
constructions.” A split with ergative in the imperfective and accusative in the perfective
has never been attested.
The second split in Balochi, not so commonly shared by other Indo-Iranian languages,
is that ergative/absolutive case marking in the perfective is confined to third person nouns
and pronouns. This is in accord with another typological universal regarding ergativity
splits. This universal was put forward by Silverstein (1976) who devised the lexical
hierarchy shown in figure 2:
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 215

(Figure 2)
(Taken from Rumsey 1987a:27)
The universal is this (Rumsey 1987a:27): “If a language has nominative-accusative case
marking for some particular NP type on this scale, it also has it for all other NP types
which are higher up on the scale. And if a language has ergative-absolutive case marking
for some NP type, it also has ergative-absolutive case marking for all types which are
lower on the scale.” The split in Balochi follows this pattern in that only 1st and 2nd
person pronouns are nominative/accusatively marked in the ergative domain (the
perfective), while everything lower on the hierarchy is ergative/absolutively marked in
the ergative domain. So 3rd person nouns and pronouns are case marked thus:
6. jinik-ø
girl-DIR go.PAST-3Sg
‘The girl went.’
7. jinik-a ja-ø
girl-OBL boy-DIR hit.PAST-3Sg
‘The girl hit the boy.’

In the perfective the patient is normally in the direct (absolutive) case, as in (7), but if it is
emphasised it may be in the dative:
8. jinik-ara dist-ø
dog-OBL EMPH-that girl-DAT see.PAST-Ø
‘The dog saw that girl.’

The reflexive pronoun /wət/ is always in the dative case when functioning as patient:
9. kangi-a , mor-a
crow-OBL self-GEN tail-DIR pluck.PAST-
3Sg, ant-OBL

self-DAT kill-PAST-Ø
‘The crow plucked his own tail, the ant killed

But (10) is not possible since the patient cannot be in the oblique case in the perfective.
10. *a-ya a-ya dist-ø
Subject, voice and ergativity 216

he-OBL him-OBL see.PAST-Ø

‘He saw him.’

3.2 First and Second persons.

First and second person pronouns are case marked according to the
nominative/accusative pattern in all tenses, even when the verb agreement follows the
ergative/absolutive pattern (see section 3.4. for verb agreement).
11. gir-ã
I-DIR you.Sg-OBL catch.PRES-ISg
‘I will catch you.’
12. gitt-ø
I-DIR you(sg)-OBL catch.PAST-Ø
‘I caught you.’
13. ma-ø tac-en-t-ø
we-DIR you(pl)-OBL run-CAUS-PAST-Ø
‘We chased you off.’

The fact that 1st and 2nd person pronoun patients are in the oblique case may be
interpreted as representing IOM, since 1st and 2nd person are always ‘identified’
(definite and animate). Thus IOM can be said to occur in the domain of non-ergative case
marking. That is, it occurs in the non-perfective and in the perfective with 1st and 2nd
person patients.

3.3 Case in the Non-perfective

In the non-perfective Balochi operates on a nominative/accusative case marking system
for sentences involving ‘identified objects’, but, as a consequence of the IOM marking
system outlined in the section 2.2, on a neutral case marking system for sentences
involving ‘unidentified objects’. This constitutes another case marking split (although
outside of the ergative domain). This accusative/neutral split is the type of case marking
pattern suggested by Rumsey (1987b) for Proto-Indo-European. So the subject of an
intransitive verb is in the direct (nominative) case:
boy-DIR go.PRES(3Sg)
‘The boy goes.’

The agent of a non-perfective transitive verb is also in the direct case, while an identified
patient is in the oblique case:
15. jinik-a
boy-DIR girl-OBL hit.PRES-3Pl
‘The boys hit the girl.’

(Note the verb agrees with the agent, and is, in fact, the only clue to the number of the
agent since the direct case is marked by /-ø/ for both singular and plural.) An
‘unidentified’ patient is in the direct case:
16. nan-ø wa
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 217

child-DIR bread-DIR eat.PRES(3Sg)

‘The child eats bread.’

1st and 2nd person pronouns, always being definite and animate, are always marked
according to the accusative pattern:
I-DIR you.Sg-OBL hit.PRES-1Sg
‘I will hit you.’

Figure 3 shows this pattern of 3rd person patient marking in the perfective and non-

Non-Perfective Perfective
Indef. Patient DIR DIR
Definite Patient OBL DIR
Def. Emph. Patient OBL DAT

(Figure 3)

3.4 Verb agreement.

In the non-perfective (17) and in most intransitive clauses (18) the verb agrees with the
subject in person and number. However, in the perfective, when the plurality of a 3rd
person plural subject is explicitly stated, then verb agreement becomes optional (19). In
the perfective, in transitive clauses, the verb agrees in number with an absolutive (i.e.
direct case) third person patient (20) but otherwise is unmarked, as if agreeing with a
third singular patient (21). This means that the verb in the perfective is only marked for
agreement with a 3rd person plural patient since 3rd singular agreement is zero marked.
So we have:
18. ma-ø
we-DIR go.PAST-1Pl
‘We went.’
19. baz
many person-ø come.PAST-3Sg/come.PAST-
‘many people came’
20. jinik-a
girl-OBL boys-DIR hit.PAST-3Pl.
‘The girl hit the boys.’
21. ma-ra dist-ø
boys-OBL us-OBL see.PAST-Ø
‘The boys saw us.’

A dative or accusative (oblique case) marked patient blocks verb agreement, and so the
verb does not agree with any argument. Dative marked patients are those which are
emphatic, whether 1st, 2nd or 3rd person. Accusative marked patients are 1st and 2nd
person patients, since 3rd person patients cannot be accusatively marked in the perfective.
Subject, voice and ergativity 218

Thus IOM in Balochi is limited to the non-perfective, and to 1st and 2nd person in the
perfective. This may be explained in terms of the ‘discriminatory’ theory of case marking
(à la Dixon and Comrie, in which case marking exists to distinguish arguments from one
another) because unlike Hindi/Urdu the oblique marker for IOM is the same as that for
ergative marking and thus if used for IOM marking in the 3rd person in the perfective
would result in identical marking for agent and patient. Thus only the dative can be used
for 3rd person IOM marking in past tense stem constructions. This is possible:
22. jinik-ara dist-ø
cat-OBL EMPH-that girl-DAT see.PAST-Ø
‘The cat saw that girl.’
23. mã-ø

I-DIR EMPH-those troubles-DAT bear-PAST do.PAST

‘I was able to bear those troubles.’

However, note that the dative is not used for simple IOM marking in the perfective but
only where there is emphasis on the patient. This is another area where Balochi diverges
from Klaiman’s (1987) analysis since the criterion for the dative marked patient in the
perfective in Balochi is not an identified patient but an emphasised patient. The IOM
criterion only applies in the non-perfective. However, the dative marking in the perfective
does have the same effect as IOM in terms of blocking verb agreement. So (note ‘wood’
is plural):
24. jinik-a dar-ø dist-ã
girl-OBL wood-DIR see.PAST-3Pl
‘The girl saw (some) wood.’
25. jinik-a dar-anã dist-ø
girl-OBL wood-DAT see.PAST-Ø
‘The girl saw the wood.’

Klaiman (1987) notes that some South Asian languages have nominal agreement on both
main and auxiliary verbs, sometimes with a split of main verb agreement with O and
auxiliary agreement with A (Marwari, from Magier 1987). However Balochi only shows
agreement on the final verb, whether main or auxiliary, as outlined above. Interestingly,
verb agreement is often marked only on the last of a series of ‘independent’ verbs:
26. a-ø ,e gitt-ø
he-DIR go.PAST-3Sg these medicines-DIR-
‘He went and bought these medicines and
brought them.’

(Note, for clitics see section 5.1)

27. mã-ø

I-DIR EMPH-this time-OBL go.PAST-Ø,

Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 219


‘At this time I went and complained.’

/ / ‘went’ is intransitive and would normally have the 1st person singular ending /-õ/,
but here it does not because it is not the final verb in the series. (See also section 6 for
verb agreement deletion.)
Figure 4 summarises case and verb agreement:

S A A P P P P (Emp) Vb.
(1&2) (3) (Ind) Def(1&2) (Def)(3) Agr
DIR with
Non- S
DIR with

(Figure 4)

3.5 The Perfective: Defining the Ergative Domain

The material presented so far suggests that ergative morphology in Balochi is sensitive to
the perfective/non-perfective distinction and to the Silverstein lexical hierarchy.
However, the situation becomes more complicated when compound tenses are taken into
account. In Balochi the tense/aspect difference to which NP case and verb agreement
morphology is sensitive seems not to be fundamentally a matter of perfective aspect but a
matter of the tense and transitivity of the final verb stem in the clause, whether auxiliary
or main. Or, in Generative terms, morphology in Balochi is sensitive to the tense marking
of the ‘inflectional phrase’ into which the final verb (auxiliary or main) has moved, and
to whether the verb concerned obligatorily subcategorises an internal argument
(excluding the verb ‘to be’ with its stative complements).
So if a particular aspectual form is always constructed with an intransitive auxiliary
verb final, then even if the main verb is transitive, the agent will be interpreted as subject
of an intransitive verb (and the patient is treated as accusative, belonging to the ‘main’
verb (/ / in (29)) which is non-perfective). Traditionally a distinction has been
drawn between ‘aorist’ tenses, or perfective aspect, in which there is ergative
28. jinik-ø dist-ø
dog-OBL girl-DIR see.PAST-3Sg
‘The dog saw the girl.’
Subject, voice and ergativity 220

and the continuous aspect, where there is nominative/accusative morphology such as:
29. sal-a ce it-ã
five year-OBL from I-DIR he-OBL
‘For five years I kept seeing him.’

So the continuous aspect seems to always have accusative morphology, even when the
main verb is past tense and transitive. But this may be because the auxiliary verb is
intransitive whatever the main verb is. And so we get sentences such as (30) and (31) in
the non-punctiliar continuative tense:
30. rek-
contractors-OBL EMPH-this river-bed-GEN

fish do. PRES-CONT do.PAST-3Sg

‘The contractors kept fishing up the sand
from this river bed.’

(30) has ergative morphology because of the transitivity and pastness of the auxiliary
verb /kən-/ (past stem / /, and here abbreviated to / /).
31. ap-ø roc roc jal bit-ã
water-DIR day by day low go.PRES-CONT
‘The waters were getting lower day by day.’

(31) has accusative morphology because of the intransitivity of the auxiliary verb /bey-/
(past stem /bit-/).
The salience of the auxiliary verb can also be seen in other compound tense/aspect
constructions. In the ‘ability’ construction (e.g: ‘I can go’) the main verb is the past stem
and the auxiliary verb is the transitive verb ‘to do’, so:
32. a-ø
they-DIR say-PAST do.PRES-3Pl
‘They can say.’

So because the auxiliary is in the present stem form there is accusative morphology, but
in (33) because the auxiliary is in the past stem and is transitive, the morphology is
ergative even though the main verb is intransitive:
33. a-yã
‘They could have fallen.’

This elegant analysis is somewhat marred by the fact that the pluperfect determines its
morphology according to the stem form of the main verb rather than the auxiliary, and
thus has ergative morphology:
34. a-yã
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 221

‘They had said.’

This appears to be a counterexample. But it could be explained thus: the suffix /-it/ or /-
a/, glossed as ‘PAST’ in (35) and (36), was originally a cliticised form of the past tense of
the verb ‘to be’. The construction using this suffix is obligatory in many Balochi dialects.
However, in Karachi dialects (and some others) an alternative past tense form of ‘to be’
/bit-/, which cannot be cliticised, has become optionally substitutional, as in (34). This
would explain why the morphology is ergative, being sensitive to the transitivity and
pastness of the main verb, since the verb ‘to be’ would originally, as in (35), have been
seen as one of the suffixes. This explanation depends on accepting /-it-/ or /-a/ as
cliticised and not free forms. Evidence for this is found in the fact that the
participial/infinitive suffix /-əg-/, when used in the perfect construction, is shortened to /-
ə/ word finally (34) but remains /-əg-/ when followed by other suffixes (35). (It is
shortened word finally even before vowels, as in /mã , xun gitt-ə art-ə dat-ə/ ‘I went,
bought blood, brought it and gave it’.)
35. a-yã
‘They had said.’
36. a-ø
they-DIR fall-PAST-PTP-PAST-3Pl
‘They had fallen.’

Thus the ergative domain is sensitive to the tense of the final verb, whether auxiliary or
main verb, rather than to aspect or tense as such.

3.6 Double Split

Trask (1979:388) divides ergative languages into two groups according to a number of
criteria. He suggests that the two types of ergativity have differing origins which give rise
to the type of ergativity manifested, and that the two types of ergativity are mutually
exclusive; there is no overlap. Trask’s two types are these:

“Type A.
If there is verbal agreement, the verb agrees with the direct object in person and number
in exactly the same way it agrees with the subject of an intransitive verb. The verb agrees
with the transitive subject in a different way.
The ergative is used equally in all tenses and aspects.
There is often an NP split, which is always in accord with Silverstein’s hierarchy; that
is, the ergative is used either (a) when the subject is below some cut-off point in the
hierarchy, or (b) when the subject is below the object in rank.
Type A languages include Basque, the ergative languages of Australia, most of those
of North America (except Eskimo-Aleut), Tibeto-Burman languages (except Tibetan),
Chukchee, Hurrian, Sumerian and perhaps Burushaski.

Type B.
Subject, voice and ergativity 222

If there is verbal agreement, the verb may agree with the direct object in number (and in
gender languages, in gender) but not person. Subject agreement, if present, is identical
with that in intransitive verbs.
There is most often a tense/aspect split, in which case the ergative configuration is
confined to the perfective aspect or the past tense, the accusative configuration being
used elsewhere. If there is no tense/aspect split, the ergative construction contrasts in
meaning with an accusative construction.
There is usually no NP split, but if there is, it is not in accord with Silverstein’s
Type B languages include the Indo-Aryan ergative languages, Kurdish, Old Persian,
Old Armenian, Tibetan, Eskimo-Aleut, the ergative languages of Polynesia, the South
Caucasian languages, and probably the North Caucasian languages.”
Trask goes on to suggest (1979:391) that “Type A languages derive from a passive
made obligatory” while Type B ergativity derives from (p. 397) “the incorporation into
the inflectional paradigm of a nominalized deverbal form with stative force”. Thus he
draws a fairly strong distinction between the passive and perfect constructions.
One of the typological universals Trask proposes is that (p. 389) “no language appears
to combine the Type A Silverstein NP split with the Type B tense/aspect split.” However,
it is clearly the case that Southern Balochi does combine a tense/aspect split with a
Silverstein NP split in which 1st and 2nd person pronouns are marked according to
nominative/ accusative marking while everything lower on the Silverstein hierarchy is
marked according to an Ergative/Absolutive pattern in the perfect (see sections 3.1–3.3).
Klaiman (1987:99) points out that this is also the case with some Indic languages,
specifically citing Marathi, Panjabi and Marwari. She wrongly credits Balochi with
having ergativity in 1st and 2nd pronouns in the ergative domain.

3.7 The Origins of Indo-Iranian Split Ergativity

Trask’s argument is that the two types of ergativity, related to two types of split, have
different origins. But since Balochi displays both types of split, the question arises as to
the origin of Balochi ergativity. The subject of the origins of Indo-Iranian ergativity is
one that has been frequently addressed, although usually with regard to a tense/aspect
split found in most Indo-Iranian languages displaying ergativity, but not with regard to an
NP hierarchy split, found in only a few Indo-Iranian languages.
With regard to the origin of Indo-Iranian ergativity and the tense/ aspect split, Trask
argues for all Indo-Iranian that ergative marking in the perfective came about through the
stative use of the past participle (as in ‘fallen’, ‘broken’, ‘seen’) in conjunction with a
possessive construction in a language or languages which have no verb ‘to have’ but use
genitive or dative case to mark possession.
Anderson (1977) (following Benveniste and dismissing Cardona) argues that this
analysis is the case for Iranian languages but that in Indic languages the passive was used
to ‘fill the gap’ of a lost perfect and that (p. 336) “the result of this is that the morphology
which originally marked the operation of a passive transformation comes to be the
marker rather of perfective aspect.”
Bynon (1980) (following Cardona rather than Benveniste) reviews Anderson’s and
others’ arguments, concerning Iranian ergativity and concludes that (p. 153) “the
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 223

traditional interpretation of the Old Persian construction as a passive would thus seem
well justified”. This would mean that not only Indic but also Iranian ergativity originates
from a passive. Although, as noted above, Balochi among other Indo-Iranian languages is
a clear counter example to Trask’s claim of the mutual-exclusivity of Silverstein NP split
and tense/aspect split, the interpretation of Indo-Iranian ergativity as originating as a
passive form used as a perfect might rescue Trask’s theory of the origins and types of
ergativity because it would demonstrate an overlap between the two types of originating
mechanisms (although it would do so via a different understanding of the origin of Indo-
Iranian ergativity).
Klaiman (1987) summarises which authors support which position but herself
maintains (1978 and 1987 p. 63) “that the /-ta/ construction in Indo-Iranian (and its
antecedent in Proto-Indo-European) was ergative.” Thus she simply passes the question
of the origin of Indo-Iranian split ergativity back to an ergative PIE. Rumsey (1987), on
the other hand, dismisses previous arguments for PIE ergativity, and thus the debate goes
With regard to the origin of NP hierarchy splits in ergativity there has been some
comment, but little, if any, about NP splits in Indo-Iranian. This is probably because NP
splits in Indo-Iranian are a less widespread phenomenon than tense/aspect splits. The
diachronic origins of NP splits in ergativity are considered by Trask (1979:391/2) who
suggests that NP splits arise from a ‘passive made obligatory’. He cites certain North
American languages which use a passive construction with 3rd person agents but an
active construction with 1st and 2nd person agents. He then suggests that if this situation
becomes obligatory it results in a language with ergative marking on 3rd person agents
and nominative marking on 1st and 2nd person; thus an NP split ergative language. He
sees this split as motivated by the tendency to put typically old information first (e.g: 1st
and 2nd person pronouns) and typically new information later (e.g: 3rd person NPs).
Such an explanation could apply to the Balochi NP split. It is interesting, however,
that the nascent Old Persian ergative construction apparently did not show an NP split,
the famous /tya manā kartam/‘what I have done’/ ‘what was done by me’ being a 1st
person oblique construction. If Old Persian was typical of Old Iranian dialects, including
the ancestor of Balochi, the NP split must be an innovation. This would mean that the NP
split in Balochi represents a pattern of loss of ergativity from ergativity in the perfective
in all persons to ergativity only in the 3rd person.
Trask maintains (1979:385) that “few ergative languages have a fully developed
passive voice.” He sees the obligatory passive origin of Type A ergativity as being a
reason for the frequent lack of a passive construction in those languages. He says (p. 392)
“the ergative morphology of both NPs and verbs is an obvious and straightforward
consequence of this route to ergativity, as is the absence of a passive voice in the
resulting ergative language.” Of Type B languages, also, he says (p. 399) “The frequent
absence of a passive voice contrasting with the ergative active is probably to be explained
by the circumstance that the passive so often originates in the same way as the Type B
ergative.” However, many ergative languages do have an antipassive construction.
Balochi does not, but it does have a passive construction, which can also be used in the
ergative domain. It is formed in a similar way to the genetically related ‘agentless
passive’ of some Kurdish dialects, which involves “the deletion of the agent, conversion
Subject, voice and ergativity 224

of the main verb to the infinitive, and the insertion of an auxiliary functioning as marker
of passive voice” (Bynon 1979:214). This same structure can be seen in:
37. tok-a lanc-ø

Mascat-GEN in-OBL boats-DIR catch.PRES-

‘Boats had been caught in Mascat.’

The status of the agent in such constructions is problematic since it is possible to elicit
this passive with agents included; however, they occur very rarely in natural speech:
38. e gom-a

this letter-DIR I-GEN with-OBL write.PRES-

‘This letter has been written by me.’

Zahidi (1982) addresses this problem regarding Pashto; he sees the addition of an agent
as being a recent innovation in the language and maintains that it is not a passive but
what he calls an ‘unknown’ verb form. So, whether ‘fully developed’ or not, Balochi
does possess a passive construction contrasting with the ergative active voice.

3.8 Synchronic Motivations of Split Ergativity

Apart from diachronic considerations, there are those such as Moravcsik (1978) whose
main interest is the synchronic motivation for ergativity. She proposes a generalization
that ergativity split along Silverstein NP lines has the more active NPs (e.g: 1st and 2nd
person) accusatively marked and the less active NPs (e.g: 3rd person) ergatively marked.
Ergativity split along tense/aspect lines has the more ‘pragmatically significant’ NPs (i.e.
the ones in the non-perfective) accusatively marked and the less pragmatically significant
NPs (perfective) ergatively marked. Thus she suggests a semantic/pragmatic motivation
for both NP and tense/aspect splits in agent marking without addressing their possible
origins. This is a ‘characterising’ theory in that it suggests that the case marking
characterises semantic and/or pragmatic information and is not merely distinguishing
syntactic roles.
A similar ‘characterizing’ theory (as opposed to ‘discriminatory’ theory) is offered by
Hopper and Thompson (1980). Mallinson and Blake (1981:93) say “Under the
Hopper/Thompson view, the fact that a language marks specific patients but not non-
specific ones, definite patients but not indefinite ones, or human or animate ones rather
than non-human or inanimate ones reflects the fact that some participants are more
patient-like than others.” And so a 1st or 2nd person agent is ‘natural’ and thus
unmarked, while a 3rd person agent is ‘unnatural’ and thus marked. On the other hand, a
1st or 2nd person patient is seen as ‘unnatural’ and is marked, while a 3rd person patient
is ‘natural’ and is unmarked. This approach provides some motivation for the accusative
marking of 1st and 2nd person patients in the perfective and the dative marking of
emphatic 3rd person patients, and also for the accusative/neutral split along IOM lines in
the non-perfective.
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 225

In addition, according to their transitivity hierarchy, Hopper and Thompson count

verbs of ‘atelic’ aspect as being less ‘transitive’ than verbs of ‘telic’ aspect. This part of
the transitivity hierarchy could provide a synchronic motivation for ergative morphology
(marking high transitivity) in the perfective domain.


The sensitivity of morphology to surface factors, specifically tense and transitivity, in

Balochi has led to the creation of an apparent partial ‘active’ case marking system.
Mallinson and Blake (1981 p. 52) describe the ‘active’ case marking system thus: “In this
system an agent/patient distinction is made with intransitive verbs so that the subject of a
verb like ‘run’ will be marked the same way as the A of a verb like ‘kill’ and the subject
of a verb like ‘be stuck’ will be marked like the O of ‘kill’.”
One of the features Balochi shares with other South Asian languages is its use of
compound verbs. It is the set of intransitive compound verbs which creates this apparent
active split in Balochi. Thus:
fikər kənəg ‘to worry’
kənəg ‘to vomit’
bal kənəg ‘to fly’
nac kənəg ‘to dance’
aram kənəg ‘to rest’
gana jənəg ‘to sing’
səbər kənəg ‘to be patient’
leb kənəg ‘to play’
tar kənəg ‘to swim’
jəmp jənəg ‘to jump’
gəp kənəg ‘to talk’
məsti kənəg ‘to be naughty’
səfər kənəg ‘to travel’
bərda∫t kənəg ‘to endure’
gəl kənəg ‘to rejoice’

The effect of these verbs being compounds with /kənəg/ or with other transitive verbs is
that the ‘subject’ becomes agent and thus ergatively marked in the ergative domain. Thus:
39. kangi-a bal
crow-OBL flying do.PAST-3Sg
‘The crow flew.’
40. mor-a der
ant-OBL late do.PAST-3Sg
‘The ant was late.’

Thus there is a significant number of semantically intransitive verbs that by being

compounds of nouns with transitive verbal elements are transitive. A case could be made
that compounds made with transitive verbs are volitional or animate to some extent,
while compounds made with intransitive verbs are less volitional or less necessarily
Subject, voice and ergativity 226

animate. Less volitional and less animate compound verbs tend to be made with /beyəg/
‘to be’. Some non-volitional /kənəg/ compounds, forming exceptions to this pattern are:
/wəfad kənəg/ ‘to die’ (but also /wəfad beyəg/), / kənəg/ ‘to be startled’, /ed kənəg/ ‘to
sweat’, but then these are all animate.
Other verbs may also be used in compounds with differing effects. Most of these
follow the pattern of transitive verbs for more volitional actions such as: /darəg/ ‘to hold’
in /go∫ darəg/ ‘to listen’ (lit. ‘hold ears’), /deyəg/ ‘to give’ in / deyəg/ ‘to mourn’ and
intransitive verbs for less volitional actions, such as /kəpəg/ ‘to fall’ in /adət kəpəg/ ‘to
fall into a habit’. One notable exception to this trend is the class of verbal compounds
with /wərəg/ ‘to eat’ which mainly express things affecting the ‘agent’, thus: /za wərəg/
‘to be insulted’ (lit. ‘to eat insults’), wərəg/ ‘to grieve’, /kəo∫ wərəg/ ‘to be hit with a
shoe’ (lit. ‘to eat shoe’). And yet these verbs, with the transitive verbal element /wərəg/,
also require ergative morphology in the ergative domain.
An exception to this system is that for a few semantically intransitive verbs which
employ transitive verbs in a compound this pattern is broken and the morphology is
nominative/accusative. Examples are:
I-DIR breath-ø bring.PAST-1Sg
‘I got tired’
42. a-ø zar-ø gitt-ã
he-DIR anger-ø take.PAST-3Pl
‘They got angry’

But these are exceptions, and the normal pattern (as with defining the perfective/ergative
domain) is that the case marking pattern takes its cue from the transitivity of the verb
used in the compound, thus a morphological rather than a semantic form of ‘active’ split
case patterning.


Not all languages displaying morphological ergativity display corresponding syntactic

ergative patterning. In fact syntactic ergative patterning such as occurs in the Australian
language Dyirbal is very rare. (For instance Comrie (1978:348) says: “In Dyirbal,
coordination operates on an ergative-absolute basis, that is, it is possible to treat as
identical for purposes of coordination two absolute noun phrases even if one is an S and
the other a P. But it is not possible to treat as identical for purposes of coordination an S
and an A.”) Balochi patterns syntactically in a nominative/accusative way in conjunction
formation, reflexives, Equi NP deletion and Raising, and its ergativity appears to be
purely morphological. However, there is one area in which Balochi has further
ramifications of ergativity, and that is in the bound pronominal system which effectively
mirrors the ergative patterning.

5.1 Bound Pronominals

Klaiman (1987) points out that a number of South Asian languages displaying ergativity
have a system of bound pronominals. Balochi is one of these languages. It has clitics for
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 227

all persons and numbers, but only the 3rd person clitics occur frequently. These clitics
can represent a variety of arguments, but their form does not change. They can represent
agent, patient, goal, possessor, subject or experiencer. Only one clitic may occur per verb.
Figure 5 displays the clitics:

Singular Plural
1st person -õ -ẽ
2nd person -it -o
3rd person -i/-e -e/i∫

(Figure 5)
Here is a patient clitic:
43. ni teyar ã, bi-r-ẽ,
fish-DIR now ready be.PRES(3Pl), SBJNC-

‘The fish are ready now, let’s go and eat

Here are some possessive clitics:

44. cil ã,

clothes-DIR-CLIT.3Pl thus dirty

be.PRES(3Pl), chest-OBL

‘Their clothes are thus dirty, (but) they are
wearing them.’

And an agentive clitic:

people-DIR out-OBL go.PAST-PTP-3Pl, kebabs-DIR-

‘The people have gone out (and) eaten shik kebabs.’

Pronominal clitics may also cooccur with a pronoun or lexical NP. Although the clitics
may represent such a wide range of semantic roles and show no formal differentiation
according to role, there are restrictions on role according to whether they are in the
perfective (ergative) domain or the non-perfective (accusative) domain. From her study
of clitics in South Asian languages, Klaiman (1987:92) proposes the following system:
“In the nonergative (as distinct from the ergative) domain, the affixes may index a variety
of participant roles including O, but usually excluding A; in the ergative domain,
however, they show complementary behaviour, generally indexing A or other object to
the exclusion of O. In transitive constructions…pronominal affixes tend to index only the
Subject, voice and ergativity 228

nominal roles which are not redundantly expressed through the mechanisms of verbal
concord.” That is, the verb endings in the non-perfective index the agent and thus there is
less need to index the agent in a clitic. Similarly, in the perfective the verb endings index
the patient and thus there is less need to index it in a clitic. So (46) is possible, being in
the non-ergative domain:
46. a ki
those people-DIR that I-DIR-CLIT.3Pl
‘Those people that I am looking at.’

But (47) is not possible, being in the ergative domain:

47. *a ki dist-ã
those people-DIR that I-DIR-CLIT.3Pl
‘Those people that I saw.’

While (48) is possible, indexing the agent:

48. a ki dist-ø
those people-DIR that I-OBL-CLIT.3Pl
‘Those people that saw me.’

While indexing O in the perfective seems to be impossible, indexing the A in the non-
perfective is rare but possible:
dog-OBL hit.PRES-3Pl-CLIT.3Pl
‘They hit(pres) the dog.’

With subjects of intransitive clauses being indexed in the verb, and with intransitive
clauses having fewer arguments in general, one would also expect fewer clitics indexing
subjects. This is indeed the case, although they do occur occasionally:
50. e log-e ce
I-GEN this child-DIR house-GEN top-OBL
from jump-DIR
hit.PAST-PTP-3Sg, fall-PAST-PTP-3Sg-
‘This child of mine jumped from on top of the
house (and) fell.’

(Interestingly / / ‘child’ is in the direct case, anticipating the final intransitive verb
/kəptəgi/ rather than the first, transitive, verb /jəmp jətə/.) So it appears that pronominal
clitics are sensitive to the ergative/accusative distinction, specifically to verb agreement.
There is a tendency for pronominals to pattern ergatively in the non-ergative domain
(indexing mainly patients, sometimes subjects), and to pattern accusatively in the ergative
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 229

domain (indexing agents and sometimes subjects). They also index other roles such as
possessor. Klaiman (1987:91) suggests that the effect of the clitics is “to increase the
accusativity of ergative constructions” and to “increase the ergativity of nonergative


Unlike Southern and Eastern Balochi, Western Balochi is almost entirely accusative in its
case marking. In addition it tends to be more, although not entirely, prepositional rather
than postpositional. Case marking in Western Balochi patterns accusatively in all tenses,
and verb agreement is also according to an accusative pattern. However, there are
exceptions to this pattern, and this brings us to our fifth split case marking pattern in
Balochi, that of discourse.
Western Balochi consistently patterns accusatively except in discourse when ergative
patterning may occasionally occur. So normally Western Balochi patterns thus:
I-DIR dogs-OBL hit.PAST-1Sg
‘I hit the dogs.’
52. jin-ø ac-a
jinn-DIR self-GEN fire-OBL take.PAST-3Sg
‘The jinn took his (own) fire.’

However, in discourse only, the patterning may be ergative. Barker and Mengal
(1969:349) observe “this usage is commonest in connected narratives where a definite
subject has been previously introduced and identified.” But they also add “this formation
is optional and depends upon factors of style and personal preference.” The following
examples are all taken from connected discourse:
53. (a) polis wala-ø, ki bazar-a
police men-DIR, who bazaar-OBL wander.PRES-
(b) baz

they-OBL much bother do.PRES-INF-OBL

beginning do.PAST-3Sg
‘The police, who wander around the bazaar, began
to bother me a lot.’

(53b) could equally have been (non-ergatively)/e-ø baz təng kən-əg-a /,

with a direct case A and plural verb agreement with A.
54. (a) kor-ø “min-a gon
blind man-DIR say-PAST-3Sg me-OBL
with you(sg) not
(b) a-wan
Subject, voice and ergativity 230

“ ”
they-OBL say.PAST-3Sg we-DIR
you(sg)-OBL not take.PRES-1Pl
‘The blind man said “Won’t you take me
with you?”
They said “We won’t take you.”
55. kazi-a dat-ø
EMPH-that city-GEN judge-OBL order-
DIR give.PAST-3Sg that
‘The judge of that city ordered that…’

Ergativity in Western Balochi is not only split according to discourse/ non-discourse (a

mother tongue speaker will count examples such as the above as ungrammatical when
repeated out of their discourse context.), but it also obeys the other splits which occur in
the other dialects. That is, Western Balochi discourse ergativity only occurs in the
perfective and only in the 3rd person.
Barker and Mengal (1969:350) observe that in Western Balochi the verb never agrees
with the patient even within the ergative construction. They give examples where the
verb agrees with the ergative agent:
56. a-wã

they-OBL mountain-GEN on -OBL fort-INDEF-DIR

‘They had built a fort on top of the mountain.’
(Barker and Mengal 1969 p. 348.)

However, in many examples, such as in (53) and (54), the verb does not agree with the
agent. This may be explained in terms of another discourse feature of Balochi which is to
leave verb agreement off altogether when it can be predicted from the context:
57. “ ”
we-DIR say.PAST-3Sg OK be.PRES(3Sg)
‘We said “OK”.’

Barker and Mengal (1969:347) observe: “Utterance initial and medial clauses in a
connected narrative often contain verbs lacking the final personal suffixes.” However,
this lack of verb agreement is restricted to the perfective, i.e. to what is the ergative
domain in other dialects. The omission of verb agreement occurs independently of
ergative case marking, often appearing, as above, alongside wholly accusative case
marking. Furthermore, as noted in section 3.4, it also occurs with intransitive as well as
transitive verbs. It is a more frequent feature of discourse than the ergative marking of
One possible explanation of the occurrence of occasional discourse ergativity is that
since the direct case is zero for both singular and plural 3rd person NPs, the only marker
of plurality is the verb agreement (with the agent in Western Balochi). If the verb
agreement is omitted, as it often is in discourse, then there may be motivation to mark the
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 231

agent for number, via oblique marking. This would provide a potential motivation for
ergative case marking in discourse, given the discourse omission of verb agreement.
So in Western Balochi there is not only the ergative case marking in discourse only,
but there is also verb agreement deletion in discourse sensitive to what is the ergative
domain in other dialects. The limiting of ergative case marking to discourse situations
seems to be a unique feature of Western Balochi. Western Balochi has the same set of
pronominal clitics as Southern Balochi, but it remains to be seen whether they function
under the same split ergative/accusative conditions depending on perfective or non-
perfective aspect. Since Western Balochi is generally accusative in all domains, the IOM
system also operates in all domains, although it does not affect verb agreement, which
normally is accusative; thus:
58. (a) ki ,
city-GEN near-OBL that come.PAST-3Pl,
they sleep-CAUS-PAST-3Pl,
(b) kor-a …
blindman-OBL say-PAST-3Pl…
‘When they came near to the city they
made the camels lie down (and) said to the
blind man…’

There have been a number of studies linking ergativity to discourse, mainly focussing on
the notion of providing a semantic or pragmatic motivation for the existence of ergative
morphology. Among those examining this question have been Du Bois (1987),
Cooreman, Fox and Givon (1984), Rude (1988), and Cumming and Wouk (1987). Du
Bois suggests that “the ergative patterning of discourse constitutes the basis of the
grammatical phenomenon of ergativity”. Cumming and Wouk (p. 292) criticize those
who analysed discourse ergativity in Austronesian languages in terms of
‘discourse/semantic’ functions (“foregrounding, transitivity, eventiveness, or agent
topicality”) rather than form. Cumming and Wouk say that these notions are not identical
and that (p. 292) “morphological ergativity cannot mark all these functions, and discourse
ergativity cannot simultaneously co-occur with all of them”.
The ‘discourse’ ergativity manifested in Western Balochi is morphological rather than
just being a ‘function’. As such it appears to be unique. In six and a half pages of past
tense narrative text ergatively marked agents occurred ten times. These occurrences did
seem to be all foregrounded with highly topical As, but there were many other non-
ergative foregrounded and highly topical As. Interestingly, with reference to Du Bois’s
observations (1987) that a new argument mention is rarely introduced as an A, out of the
ten occurrences of ergatively marked agents in the text, four of them were introducing
new argument mentions. This seems to be proportionately very high.
However, I have not been able to determine a single function which might motivate all
the occurrences of ergativity in Western Balochi. On the other hand, it may well be that
they are closely linked with the phenomenon of verb agreement deletion as mentioned
above and that their motivation is morphosyntactic rather than semantic pragmatic, even
though they only occur in discourse contexts.
Subject, voice and ergativity 232

Diachronically it makes sense to view this phenomenon as a relic from a previous

ergative stage of Western Balochi, since a number of Iranian languages are seen as
moving from an ergative to an accusative state. Estival and Myhill suggest that all
ergative languages, ‘surface’ and ‘deep’, represent different stages of the same cycle from
nominative/ accusative to ergative/absolutive and back again. They say of this cycle that
(1988:478) “the only historically documented example of the full development…from
passive to ergative and then accusative, is found in the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-
European family… This development consisted in the verbalization of a deverbal
adjective and the transfer of syntactic subject properties from O to A in the passive
construction, making the construction ergative; later the loss of oblique marking on A,
the transfer of agreement on the verb from O to A and the acquisition of accusative case-
marking by O made this construction accusative. We can still see today that different
Indo-Iranian languages are at various stages in this change.” Such languages include
dialects of Kurdish and the Pamir languages surveyed by Payne (1980).
Also visible in the Indo-Iranian languages, including Balochi, are the patterns of loss
of ergative marking. It is possible to see discourse as a domain in Western Balochi in
which ergativity is more resistant to loss. Thus, from an earlier ‘ergative’ stage of the
dialect, morphology has become accusative, (following a previous corresponding
syntactic shift, according to Estival and Myhill) but because of the verb agreement
deletion discourse feature, ergative marking still occasionally occurs in discourse.


In conclusion, it appears that there are five case marking splits occurring in Balochi to a
greater or lesser extent. (1) The ergative domain is restricted to the perfective aspect
(defined here by the tense and transitivity of the final verb). (2) Ergative/absolutive case
marking is restricted to 3rd person NPs. (3) In the non-perfective ‘identified’ patients are
marked accusatively while unidentified ones are unmarked. In the perfective, emphasised
3rd person patients are in the dative case, while unemphasised ones are in the direct
(absolutive) case. (4) Certain mainly volitional semantically intransitive verbs, by virtue
of being compounds of a noun and a transitive verb thus have ergative morphology in the
ergative domain. (5) In Western Balochi (1), (2) and (4) apply but only in the domain of
discourse. Splits (1) and (2) show that languages do exist displaying both tense/aspect
and Silverstein NP splits. This certainly appears to be a counterexample to the proposed
universal that such double splits never occur. However, it may possibly be explained as a
feature of the decay of ergativity in Balochi (and the other languages in which it occurs).
Balochi is largely syntactically nominative/accusative even in the ergative domain, but
the system of pronominal clitics has a tendency towards a split accusative/ergative
It is possible that all of the above splits represent semantic and pragmatic features,
such as the notions delineated by Hopper and Thompson (1980:252) on their transitivity
hierarchy, of ‘aspect’, ‘volitionality’, ‘agency’, and the ‘individuation of O’, along with
the notion of ‘foregrounding’, which Hopper and Thompson propose as the basis for their
entire transitivity hierarchy.
Fading ergativity?a study of ergativity in balochi 233

However, it is also possible that the splits are a result of the origin and the subsequent
patterns of loss of ergativity and represent diachronic processes rather than synchronic
Assuming that the ancestor of Balochi displayed a construction akin to the Old Persian
/tya manā kartam/ construction, then the split pattern in Southern Balochi shows a
subsequent loss of ergative case marking in the 1st and 2nd persons. Western Balochi, on
the other hand, lost all ergative morphology apart from a verb agreement deletion rule in
discourse contexts, and a possibly related discourse occurrence of the ergative case
marking of agents.
If this process of the decay of ergativity is what has occurred in Balochi, then it
represents an interesting picture of the stages by which ergativity has progressively
decayed in one language. Conversely, it shows which areas of the domain of ergativity in
Balochi have been most resistant to change. Balochi, especially in the comparison of
Western and Southern dialects, thus provides a valuable insight into the diachronic decay
of ergativity and the transition phase towards a nominative/accusative system.

A Agent
Abs/Absol Absolutive
Acc Accusative
ADJ Adjective
CAUS Causative
CLIT Pronominal Clitic
CONT Continuative
DAT Dative
Def Definite
DIR Direct case
EMPH/Emp Emphatic
Erg Ergative
GEN Genitive
INDEF/Ind Indefinite
INF Infinitive
IOM Identified Object Marking
MASC Masculine
Nom Nominative
Non-perf Non-perfective aspect
O Object
OBJ Object
OBL Oblique
Subject, voice and ergativity 234

P Patient
Perf Perfective aspect
Pl Plural
PRES Present
PTP Participle
S Subject
SBJNC Subjunctive
Sg Singular
1 First person
2 Second person
3 Third person


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Andrew Spencer


There has been much discussion of valency alternations in linguistic theory, and in
Government-Binding (GB) theory (Chomsky, 1986a, 1986b) in particular. A construction
which has received special attention is the passive voice. It is widely recognized that a
great many languages have a productive alternation in which a transitive verb becomes
intransitive. The direct object surfaces as the subject of the derived verb form, leaving the
former subject either totally unexpressed (albeit ‘implicit’), or expressed solely as an
optional adjunct phrase, frequently signalled by an oblique case marker or adposition. It
is generally assumed in GB theory that passive verb forms fail to assign an external theta
role, that is, a semantic role corresponding to that of the active subject. In GB theory,
canonical passive constructions reflect Burzio’s Generalization. This states that
predicates which fail to assign an external role also fail to assign objective Case. This
means that such verb forms are unable to license a surface direct object. Hence, when a
predicate which selects a direct object (i.e. which has an internal argument) appears in the
passive voice, that internal argument surfaces as the subject of the constructions. This is
because the subject position is the only position in which it can be assigned Case. By the
Case Filter, all overt NPs must receive Case (or the equivalent), thus, the promotion of
the old direct object to subject position has the appearance of an obligatory
The languages in which passive voice forms have been studied intensively have all
been of the Nominative/Accusative type (what I shall call ‘accusative languages’).
However, ergative languages frequently have their own type of valency reducing device,
an operation known as the antipassive. In this construction, it is the direct object that is
demoted to the status of an optional adjunct, or remains an unexpressed implicit
In this paper I discuss such valency alternations from a novel perspective. What I wish
to explicate is the general typological observation that the passive voice is typical of
accusative languages, while the antipassive voice is typical of ergative languages. I have
not found a single reliable case of an accusative language with a productive antipassive
construction of the kind which abounds in the ergative languages. Moreover, my
impression is that where an ergative language has both alternations, it is more likely that
the antipassive rather than the passive will be fully productive.
A second observation concerns the nature of canonical passive and antipassive
constructions. (Let me stress that I am restricting myself to idealized ‘typical’
constructions here). If passive voice typically respects Burzio’s Generalization, then the
antipassive typically obeys what we may regard as the mirror-image: a predicate which
lacks an internal argument fails to assign ergative case. It is this parallelism which makes
The ergative parameter 237

the two processes into canonical devices for detransitivizing transitive predicates. My
claim is that this parallelism is not accidental and should be accounted for by a common
mechanism of argument structure realization and Case assignment. The goal of the paper
is to sketch the outlines of just such a mechanism.

Structural Case Marking

In GB theory, the cases assigned to subjects and objects, Nom(inative) and Accusative),
are structural cases (Chomsky, 1986a), that is, they are assigned by virtue of a syntactic
configuration rather than by virtue of lexical properties of the case assigner. They differ
in this respect from the semantic cases (inherent cases in Chomsky’s terminology). In
ergative languages the structural cases are (presumably) Erg(ative) and Abs(olutive).
Now, the ergative and accusative languages exhibit an interesting asymmetry with respect
to structural case marking. In accusative languages the obligatory case, assigned when
there is only one argument, is Nom. In ergative languages, however, the obligatory case
is Abs. It is only when there are two arguments that Erg case is called upon. The principal
reason why ergative languages differ from accusative languages is because this second
structural case is assigned to the subject not the object.
In GB theory Nom is assigned from Infl (a syntactic position which we can think of as
that of the auxiliary verbs). A base generated intransitive subject will therefore always be
assigned Nom. Likewise, any derived subject (e.g. the subject of a passive verb) will be
assigned Nom from Infl. Only subjects which are governed (exceptionally) by a higher
predicate can be assigned a different case, e.g. Accusative), as in believes him to be
This view of case marking is grossly oversimplified, of course. In many languages we
have concomitant cross-referencing of subjects and objects by the verb or by auxiliary
verbs, while in other languages these relationships are signalled by word order. Many
languages use a mixture of these means. Following Baker (1988), we can say subjects
and objects are PF identified by various morphosyntactic devices (where PF stands for
the level of ‘Phonological Form’ in GB theory). In English a monotransitive verb will PF
Identify its subject and object principally by means of word order, and marginally by
subject-verb agreement, while case marking is found only with personal pronouns. Both
accusative and ergative languages maintain an opposition in the way that arguments are
PF identified. Let us say that in (basically) accusative languages the opposition is
between NOM and ACC while in (basically) ergative languages it is between ABS and
ERG, where these are cover terms for whatever morphosyntactic means of PF
identification are used by the language, nominal case-marking, cross-referencing or
whatever. In what follows, I shall use agreement as a cover term for these various types
of PF identification, even when this is actually realized (in part, at least) by, say, case
The simple facts of identification in ergative languages already pose interesting
problems for a theory of structural PF identification. Given standard assumptions, in
particular, assuming that identification occurs under government, we would wish to say
that ABS assignment is the default situation, established structurally in monovalent
constructions. However, we cannot say that it is assigned by Infl because in transitive
Subject, voice and ergativity 238

constructions it is assigned to the object. On the other hand we cannot say that ERG is
assigned (structurally) from the verb, because it is only assigned to transitive subjects,
and verbs do not govern such NPs. How, then, do we guarantee that ABS is assigned to
both subjects and objects, and that ERG is only assigned to transitive subjects?
I shall propose that structural identification of direct arguments is achieved by
essentially the same mechanism across languages, but that its realization can be
parametrized in a simple way. This perspective will allow us to draw certain parallels
between ergative languages and accusative languages which are difficult to capture
otherwise. The first assumption is that identification of both the subject and the object is
governed by a set of features which are properties of the sentence as a whole. Let us
assume that there are PF identification features, [AGR1, AGR2] spelt out as case marking,
verb agreement and so on. [AGR2] is non-obligatory, in the sense that it only plays a role
when the predication is hence assigned to the singleton argument of monotransitive
verbs). In involves a verb with more than one argument. [AGR1] is obligatory (and
accusative languages, then, this feature complex takes the form [NOM, ACC] and in
ergative languages it has the form [ABS, ERG], where the obligatory agreement is
For concreteness consider examples 1, 2 from the Paleosiberian language, Chukchee
(Skorik, 1961, 1977):
1. .
father-ABS ran-3sg/intr.
‘The father ran.’
2. .
father-ERG saw-3sgSUBJ/3sgOBJ son-ABS
‘The father saw the son.’

These will have a basic structure such as that illustrated in 3, 4:



The subscripting illustrates the idea that [ABS] picks out the subject NP in intransitive
clauses and the direct object NP in transitive clauses, while [ERG] is used solely to
The ergative parameter 239

identify the transitive subject. On the other hand, the representations for the English
equivalents of 1, 2 will have the structures of 5, 6:


Here, the [NOM] feature identifies the subject position in both structures.
Note that I am not assuming that these features are properties of (the projection of) an
‘agreement’ head, AgrP, cf. Pollock, (1989). I follow latridou (1990) in being sceptical
about the existence of such a projection.
The next assumption is more controversial, and concerns the mechanism of canonical
theta role assignment. I emphasize that I am talking about canonical assignment
mechanisms here, concerning myself solely with the way that theta roles are assigned to
external arguments and direct internal arguments, i.e. canonical subjects and direct
objects. For convenience, we can refer to these as structural arguments. The essential idea
is to say that theta role assignment is mediated through the devices of PF identification,
namely, the AGR features. Theta role assignment is generally linked to PF identification
assignment by a principle of ‘visibility’ (Chomsky, 1981): an NP must be made visible
(by PF identification) in order to be capable of receiving a theta role. Let us assume that
for structural arguments this visibility requirement is met by the demand that theta role
assignment take place through the AGR features. That is, a structural theta role can only
be assigned to a position which is licensed by a structural Case (or other form of
structural PF identification). Where do these structural PF identification features come
from? Let us say they are licensed by the verb in the sense that a verb which lexically has
only one argument permits only one such AGR feature to appear, while a verb which has
more than one argument permits two such features.
The trees in 7 show how this is supposed to work. Here we have a canonical transitive
verb in an accusative language, whose argument structure I have notated <Ag Th> for
concreteness. When a verb with this argument structure is inserted into a syntactic
representation it requires the [NOM, ACC] AGR frame as in 7a. (This is essentially a
reconstruction of Marantz’s (1984) model in which a feature [+transitive] percolates from
the verb). The i subscript in 7a shows that the internal argument has been coindexed with
AGR2, here [ACC]. This is the canonical coindexation for direct internal arguments,
Subject, voice and ergativity 240

capturing the traditional notion that accusative case typically marks patients. As a result
of this coindexation, the direct internal argument role, <Th> is ultimately linked to the
object NP position.

The [NOM] feature is indexed with the subject NP, as shown by the 1 subscript. The
external argument is now coindexed with this remaining AGR feature, to give 7b:

Whenever we have an intransitive verb only one AGR marker is licensed in the AGR
frame. This will be the obligatory AGR. In the case of accusative languages this is
[NOM]. Therefore, whatever the nature of the verb’s argument structure (in particular,
irrespective of whether it is unergative or unaccusative), that argument will be linked to
the subject NP via [NOM].
In sum, we modify theta government so that canonical theta marking of an NP by the
verb is contingent on identification of that NP by means of the AGR features [NOM,
ACC], spelt out as morphological case marking, verb agreement or whatever. In effect,
this is simply a notation for formalizing the (abstract) notion of structural case
assignment. In an accusative language the non-obligatory AGR is linked to the direct
internal argument of a transitive verb and hence to the surface object position, and thus
mediates the licensing of theta marking of an object NP. Licensing and theta marking of
the subject (via [NOM]) is then the default assignment.
Now consider a canonical transitive verb in an ergative language. The argument
structure remains exactly the same (contra Marantz, 1984). However, the AGR frame has
an obligatory [ABS] feature and a non-obligatory [ERG]. The [ERG] feature, recall, is
canonically coindexed with the external argument (protypically the Agent) and hence
with the subject NP, as in 8a. This coindexation captures the traditional notion that
ergative case indicates agentivity.
The ergative parameter 241


By default the remaining argument, <Th> is coindexed with the [ABS] feature, and hence
is ultimately assigned to the object position, as shown in 8b:

The fact that it is [ABS] which is the obligatory AGR feature in ergative languages leads
to an important difference in the behaviour of intransitive clauses. For here, irrespective
of the nature of the verb (i.e. whether it is unaccusative or unergative) the argument will
be associated with an NP identified as an absolutive. Thus, the ergative parameter boils
down to one difference in the mode of PF identification in the two language types. In
accusative languages it is the [ACC] feature, canonically associated with patient roles,
which is optional, while in ergative languages it is the [ERG] feature, canonically
associated with agent roles, that is optional. In the next section we will see how this
simple difference can account for the hitherto unexplained differences between
accusative and ergative languages with respect to detransitivization.

According to Burzio’s Generalization verb forms such as passive participles which lack
or fail to assign an external argument are unable to license (PF identify) a direct object. In
the framework just outlined they fail to permit coindexation of the internal argument to
[ACC]. Now, there are well-known exceptions to Burzio’s Generalization (for instance,
the ‘transitive passives’ of Polish and Ukrainian mentioned below; see Spencer, 1991,
chapter 7, for discussion). Let us assume, however, that Burzio’s Generalization is
universally valid. This is accounted for on the present analysis by saying that [NOM] is
the obligatory AGR-feature and it is therefore the only such element available to a
monovalent predicate for the purpose of licensing an argument NP position. Thus, in
languages such as English, which respect the canonical indexing of [NOM] solely with
subjects, no intransitive verb form can take an object.
To account for the behaviour of passives, let us assume with Shibatani (1985) that the
passive construction is essentially an operation on argument structure which has the
Subject, voice and ergativity 242

function of ‘defocusing’ the external argument (which in general is semantically the

agent). One way of achieving this is to prevent a clause from licensing the realization of
the external argument as a subject in S-structure. Since this effectively means reducing
the (surface) valency of the predication, this will mean that the derived predicate will PF
identify its arguments in the manner of an intransitive verb. I propose that we achieve this
‘delicensing’ by neutralizing the [ACC] feature, linking it lexically with the external
argument position. This is diagrammed in 9, where the asterisk indicates lexical linking:

Intuitively, the motivation for this manoeuvre is that it is the simplest way of reducing the
surface syntactic valency (PF identification properties) and simultaneously defocusing
the external argument.
The proposal can be compared with that of Baker, Johnson and Roberts (1989). They
argue that the passive morpheme is a nominal clitic to which the external argument role is
assigned and which also receives the verb’s (presumably accusative) abstract case. The
difference is that Baker et al. locate the passive morpheme (-en) under the Infl head (that
is, the position of auxiliary verbs in English) while the case originates from the verb. The
case is then transferred to the -en affix, which is then moved onto the verb. In the present
analysis of structural case assignment (more generally, structural identification) this is
impossible: the case marking is represented by the [NOM] feature, while -en is generated
on the verb. Since [NOM] is an AGR feature which is a property of the whole clause, and
since its function is to license the subject NP position, there is no sense in which it can be
‘assigned’ to a verb inflection.
Why should it be the external argument that is so singled out? In Baker et al.’s
analysis it is because the -en morpheme is generated under Infl and only the external
argument is assigned to this position. If the -en morpheme were generated under VP then
it would correspond to the direct object and we would have an antipassive (see below).
However, this account fails to explain why it is that (genuine) antipassives are
exceedingly rare or nonexistent in accusative languages, while they are common in
ergative languages.
In a canonical passive we link the external argument with the ‘wrong’ AGR feature,
[ACC], and thus defocus the external argument. If we lexically link the external argument
to [NOM], or the internal argument to [ACC], then we obtain a lexical representation in
which transitivity relations are maintained at the level of argument structure, but in which
the linked argument is ‘frozen’. It is then interpreted as having arbitrary reference. When
the internal argument is so prelinked we obtain an ‘object deleting’ verb. This has the
representation 10, corresponding to a surface structure 11:
The ergative parameter 243


11. Tom ate [proarb].

The prelinked theme surfaces as a pro empty category with arbitrary reference
(pragmatically interpreted as food). On the other hand, if the external argument is linked
to [NOM], we have a transitive structure which licenses a direct object, but in which the
subject is ‘frozen’ and interpreted as having arbitrary reference, a construction generally
interpreted as a species of ‘transitive’ passive. This is the case with the following
synonymous Polish examples (Růžička, 1988):
12a. …dzieci trzymano krótko i
children-ACC held-NEUT/SG tightly and
bito za najmniejsze przewinienie
beaten-NEUT.SG. for slightest offence
12b. …dzieci krótko i
children-ACC hold-3SG REFL tightly and
za najmniejsze przewinienie
beat-3SG for slightest offence
‘…children were kept a tight rein on and
beaten for the slightest offence.’

Here the object appears in the accusative, while the verb appears in the neuter singular
form of the passive participle (12a) or in the 3sg form of the reflexive (12b) (marked by
the particle ). Like Růžička, I effectively distinguish these constructions from true
passives. The passive/reflexive morphology reflects the lexical association between the
external argument and [NOM]. It is possible for intransitive verbs in some languages to
receive passive morphology, the result often being referred to as an impersonal passive.
In 13, we see a Polish example involving true passive morphology and in 14 a Czech
example showing reflexive morphology:
13. Byχo chodzeno.
‘People were walking.’
14. Tancovalo se až do rána.
danced.PAST/NEUT/SG REFL up till
People were dancing until the morning.’

Under our present terms of reference, we would have to regard impersonal passives of
intransitive verbs as distinct from genuine passives. An intransitive verb can only license
the [NOM] feature. If the external argument is linked to this AGR marker then we should
again have a subject with arbitrary reference and no realization of the external argument.
Subject, voice and ergativity 244

This is true of the impersonal passives of Slavic and Romance. However, impersonal
passives in Dutch and German permit a by-phrase to realize a non-arbitrary implicit
agent, showing that the present account remains overly simple, as example 15 from
Dutch shows:
15. Er wordt hier door de jonge lui veel gedanst.
It is here by the young people much danced
‘Young people do a lot of dancing here.’

It is widely assumed that the passive is the least marked valency reducing construction.
Why should it involve linking of the external argument with the [ACC] marker? In a
language respecting the Extended Projection Principle, all clauses have a subject.
Therefore, [NOM] is available for all verbs irrespective of their transitivity. However,
[ACC], while assigned structurally, nonetheless has to be licensed by a predicate with a
direct internal argument. In this respect, licensing of [ACC] can be thought of as a lexical
property, in contrast to the licensing of [NOM]. Viewed in this light, it is natural that
lexical prelinking should be targeted on that AGR marker, which in effect is lexically
determined, namely, [ACC].
These results are summarized in 16, showing the representations of passives,
impersonal passives and transitive passives resp., in which the external (agent) argument
is suppressed:
16a. (=9)



In 10 above we saw what happens when the internal (theme) role is prelinked to the ACC
element. There are two types of construction missing, however, in which the internal
argument is prelinked.
The ergative parameter 245

The first omission is that of an unaccusative verb in the passive form. An unaccusative
predicate is one which lacks an external argument. An example would be the verb arrive.
Passive participles are also examples of unaccusative predicates. An unaccusative verb is
said to have an internal argument, which would normally surface as a direct object.
However, by Burzio’s Generalization, a verb lacking an external argument will not
normally license a direct object. Therefore, the argument has to surface as a subject. In
the present framework this means that we have a predicate with an internal argument
which is monovalent and hence unable to license the [ACC] marker. Hence, the verb’s
argument can only be associated with the subject position, not the object position, since
this is the only position the [NOM] can identify (in English).
Lexical linking of such an argument would give rise to the structure in 17 (where the
dash in the theta grid of the verb indicates that there is no external argument):

It is widely found that unaccusative predicates fail to appear in the passive form even in
languages which have impersonal passives (see Spencer, 1991, chapter 7, for review).
However, such things are not universally excluded, occurring, for example, in Turkish
and Lithuanian. On the present theory, the relative rarity of passives of unaccusatives will
be connected with the fact that this would involve (i) lexical linking of the argument of a
monovalent predicate, hence, lexical linking of [NOM], and moreover (ii) lexical linking
of an internal rather than the external argument. Thus, the construction can be regarded as
doubly ‘marked’.
The second omission is illustrated in 18:

Here, an internal argument is ‘defocused’ by prelinking with the ‘wrong’ AGR element.
Were this to happen, the direct object would become an implicit argument (as in the
object-deleting verbs) while the external argument would be expressed as a direct object,
as illustrated in 19b:
19 a. The farmer killed the duckling,
b. It killed the farmer (of the duckling).
Subject, voice and ergativity 246

I have not encountered constructions of this type in any language. It is difficult to see
how they could ever arise, given that, by definition, external arguments have to be
predicated outside the phrase containing the predicate head (cf. Williams, 1980, Marantz,
1984), whereas in 18 the predication would have to be internal to the VP.

The minimal assumption is that valency reduction in ergative languages is identical to
that in accusative languages modulo differences in PF identification. This means we
would expect the facts of detransitivizing constructions to be solely the result of
identifying subject and object positions by [ABS] and [ERG] rather than [NOM] and
Recall that the canonical passive involves suppression of the non-obligatory ([ACC])
marker by prelinking with the ‘wrong’ (i.e. external) argument. By this reasoning the
canonical valency decreasing operation in an ergative language will consist in prelinking
the non-obligatory ([ERG]) marker with the internal argument, as illustrated in 20 (I have
retained the subscripting on the AGR markers and argument NPs as a reminder that
[ABS] identifies the complement to the verb):

This gives rise to a verb which has an ‘implicit theme’, and whose external theta role is
assigned to an NP marked as absolutive. This, of course, is a characterization of the
canonical antipassive. Our assumptions about structural PF identification together with
assumptions about lexical linking to AGR markers, automatically predict that
antipassives will have the same status with respect to ergative languages that passives
have with respect to accusative languages. Thus we have achieved our goal of capturing
the parallelism between these constructions in the two types of languages.
In 21 we see the possible ways of constructing a passive in an ergative language:
The ergative parameter 247



In 21a we see the external argument linked unexpectedly to the [ABS] marker. This
leaves a construction in which the internal argument is marked as though it were a
transitive subject while the external argument is implicit. It is hard to imagine such a
construction in a genuinely ‘pure’ ergative language. However, such a construction
would look very much like a passive in an accusative language. Any ergative language
which exibited such a construction would, perhaps, be said to have split ergativity. The
equivalent in an accusative language would be the construction illustrated in 18, which I
branded impossible. Construction 21a, however, is not an impossibility, because it does
not involve a violation of the principles of predication.
In 21b we have an unergative predicate giving a subject-deleting verb, producing
something reminiscent of the passive of an unaccusative verb in an accusative language. I
do not know if such cases are found in ergative languages. One would not expect them to
be common, any more than passives of unaccusatives are common in accusative
In 21c we have the ergative equivalent of an object-deleting verb in an accusative
language. This construction would be essentially identical to a passive in an accusative
language. However, if the parallelism with object-deleting verbs were maintained, by
virtue of the <Ag> role being identified with the semantically appropriate AGR element,
then we would expect the internal argument to be identified as a direct object and the
subject to be given arbitrary reference. As Marantz (1984) points out such constructions
are found in West Greenlandic, though it is not clear whether we are dealing with subject
deletion or passivization. In Yupik the corresponding forms actually resemble object-
deleting verbs. Unfortunately, without careful interpretation of the data it is difficult to
draw conclusions on this score, since the analysis depends on a very detailed
understanding of these constructions. In any event the parallelism with object-deleting
verbs in accusative languages is unlikely to be perfect. This is because in an ergative
language the result of suppressing the external argument and simultaneously neutralizing
the [ERG] feature would be to create a surface monotransitive predicate whose argument
is identified by [ABS]. Given the Extended Projection Principle (Chomsky, 1981), one
would expect such a construction to be treated as equivalent to an ordinary intransitive
Subject, voice and ergativity 248

construction so that the underlying internal argument (direct object) would be treated as a
derived subject.
There remain two logically possible modes of valency reduction in ergative languages,
schematized in 22:


In 22a we have the ergative equivalent of a transitive passive. Here the internal argument
is suppressed (remaining implicit or perhaps arbitrary, as with object-deleting verbs in
accusative languages). However, the resulting intransitive sentence has a subject marked
ergatively, giving an active construction. Such a result is not expected in a genuine
ergative language, in which ergative identification is only possible for the subject of a
transitive clause. However, given that transitive passives exist in accusative languages,
one might expect the corresponding anomaly to turn up in an ergative language.
In 22b an unaccusative verb has had its argument suppressed with concomitant
neutralization of the [ABS] element. This is the equivalent of prelinking between the
external argument and [NOM] in an accusative language, and we may think of 22b as
representing an impersonal antipassive. Again, I do not know if such constructions are
reliably attested.

Non-canonical Identification

I have been at pains to restrict myself to canonical constructions, that is, ‘unmarked’
constructions from which other construction types can be seen as deviations. One such
deviation is represented by Exceptional Case Marking verbs (or Raising-to-Object in
some grammatical frameworks), illustrated by well-known examples such as 23:
23. Tom believes Dick to have left.

In the GB framework, Dick to have left is the clausal complement of believe with Dick as
its subject. In order to be licensed the embedded subject NP must be case marked by the
matrix verb. This is subject to lexically governed idiosyncrasy, as seen by the
ungrammaticality of 24 and kindred examples:
The ergative parameter 249

24. *Tom thinks Dick to have left.

These cases do not compromise the model proposed here, in so far as we are dealing with
exceptional constructions which deviate from canonical types. In particular, we must
assume that assignment of the external role to the embedded subject takes place even
without the mediation of the AGR feature, and the resulting structure is ultimately
‘saved’ at PF by Exceptional Case Marking (ECM) from the matrix predicate. However,
a speculative alternative is worth considering. We could say that ECM verbs license a
(structural) [ACC] feature in the matrix clause, and hence, in effect, can be transitive
verbs. We might then say that the external role assigned from the embedded verb can be
linked, by special dispensation allowed to ECM verbs, to the [ACC] in the matrix clause.
This possibility can be entertained by virtue of the fact that the structural case/theta
marking properties of the embedded verb are, in effect, properties of the whole sentence.
In effect, this would be to analyse ECM verbs as Raising-to-Object verbs, but without
assuming the creation of a structural NP object as daughter to the matrix VP (which
would, of course, be in violation of the Projection Principle).
The second problem is a more serious one, in that it is less ‘exceptional’. This
concerns the assignment of a theta role to a PRO subject, as in sentences such as 25:
25. Tom expects [PRO to win].

Now, it is a key assumption in GB theory that the embedded subject position occupied by
PRO is not a position to which (abstract) case is assigned. Indeed, this position is
ungoverned. Therefore, it is not possible for theta role assignment to be mediated through
case assignment (or more generally through PF identification on the present terms).
There are many things to say about these constructions though it must be conceded
that the whole question of case assignment and PRO subjects of non-finite predicates is a
murky area. For example, if PRO is ungoverned, and hence fails to receive case in 25,
how do we account for the well-known possibility of an overt subject NP in sentences
such as 26?
26. Tom expects [Harriet to win].

Similar problems are posed by gerunds, which may take PRO or full NP subjects, as in
27 a. PRO leaving home would upset the
b. Father

There is a considerable debate over these issues (see Lasnik and Uriagereka, 1988, for a
concise textbook summary).
One problematical aspect is that I have couched discussion so far in terms of PF
identification. This includes a variety of morphosyntactic phenomena over and above
case assignment, including agreement and word order. However we approach the
problem of structural case in GB theory and the distribution of PRO we must recognize a
distinction between case assignment to nominals and other means of identification. For
instance, it is not uncommon to find predicate complements predicated of a PRO subject,
Subject, voice and ergativity 250

and agreeing with that subject in features such as gender or number. This is illustrated for
Russian in 28:
28a. Mužčina staraetsja [PRO byt’ čestnym].
man tries to-be honest.MASC.SG
‘The man tries to be honest.’
b. Ženščina staraetsja [PRO byt’ čestnoj].
woman tries to-be honest.FEM.SG
‘The woman tries to be honest.’
c. Deti starajutsja [PRO byt’ čestnymi].
children try to-be honest.PL
‘The children try to be honest.’

Chukchee poses more interesting problems. This ergative language case marks all direct
arguments with Abs and Erg case, and finite verbs in addition show agreement with
subjects and objects. This was illustrated in examples 1, 2. There is also a very highly
developed system of gerunds functioning as adverbials. These are non-finite verb forms
marked by a variety of suffixes, mainly homophonous with nominal case markers, but
completely lacking in any agreement morphology. They typically appear with a null
subject, controlled by the matrix subject. These gerunds exhibit typical control properties
associated with PRO subjects. This is illustrated in 29 with a gerund formed on the suffix
-ma, indicating ‘simultaneous action’ (and homophonous with one component of the
Comitative II case circumfix):
29. megceran-ma

women-ABS.PL work-MA workshop-LOC

. sing
‘The women always sing while they work in
the workshop.’

However, in addition to such examples it is also possible to find cases reminiscent of

‘absolute’ constructions, in which the subject is overtly present. In these cases, an
intransitive subject is marked Abs, while in transitive clauses the subject receives Erg
case marking and the object is in the Abs. These situations are illustrated respectively in
30, 31:
men -ABS hunt -MA women
work seashore-LOC.
‘While the men are hunting, the women work
on the seashore.’
31. -e ŋinqeg -ti ajŋal?an-ma
old woman-ERG children-ABS scold -MA

they only laugh

‘When the old woman scolds the children,
they just laugh.’
The ergative parameter 251

The conclusion to be drawn from these types of example is that the surface manifestation
of PF identification, be it nominal case marking, verbal agreement, or whatever, bears a
rather complex relation to syntactic structure. In Chukchee, surface structural case
marking and verb agreement fail to coincide just in the case of the nonfinite verb forms,
in which there can be case marking but no agreement. The ‘absolute’ constructions show
that the subject position cannot be simply regarded as ‘ungoverned’ since it is a position
to which Erg case can be (structurally) assigned. I do not have a solution to the
theoretical problems which these data pose. I would merely point out that this is a
problematic area for all theories of syntax, so that failure to find such a solution does not
vitiate the approach as a whole.


I have argued that we can account for a hitherto unnoticed symmetry between canonical
passive and antipassive constructions by assuming that direct arguments of the verb (the
subject and direct object) are assigned to NP positions in syntactic structure by being
linked to ‘PF identification’ features or [AGR] markers, located at the level of the clause
as a whole. These are either [NOM, ACC] (for accusative languages) or [AGS, ERG] (for
ergative languages). This linking process can be viewed as a formalization of the notion
of ‘structural case assignment’. In the unmarked transitive clause (i.e. active voice)
[ACC] is linked to the direct internal argument, while [ERG] is linked to the external
argument. This variation is the core of the ergative parameter.
An abstract variant of Burzio’s Generalization holds of both types of
detransitivization: if the verb fails to assign Acc/Erg case, then it fails to license an
external/internal argument. I account for this by saying that the [ACC/ERG] case markers
are secondary features of the transitivity of the clause, and that detransitivizing
canonically involves the lexical linking of such a secondary feature with the ‘wrong’
argument, that is, [ACC] is linked to the external argument, while [ERG] is linked to the
direct internal argument. This at once captures the similarity of the process of
detransitivization, while ensuring that the two constructions will yield different results
(passive voice and antipassive voice respectively), due solely to the ergative parameter


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