Proceedings of IATL 26

There has been a debate in the literature about whether the perfective verbal system of the North Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) dialects should be analyzed as ergative. The ergativity analysis has been proposed in the past for a subset of the NENA dialects, which also exhibit what is the most famous characteristic of ergative languages, i.e. the marking of intransitive subjects like transitive objects. We propose to extend the ergativity analysis to NENA in general, including those dialects where intransitive and transitive subjects are marked alike. In the past, the existence of such dialects motivated leading scholars of Aramaic to reject the ergativity analysis (Goldenberg 1992, 1998, Polotsky 1996). These scholars suggested alternative explanations for the agreement inversion found in the NENA perfective system (which is usually taken to be typical of ergative languages). Polotsky interprets the NENA perfective as a passive construction, Goldenberg -- as a possessive construction. In the present paper, we first note that both alternative analyses are actually compatible in principle with the ergativity analysis. The passive analysis is reducible to the so-called syntactic ergativity (Dixon 1994), whereas the possessive analysis is compatible with the so-called morphological ergativity. Second, we show that the passive analysis is in fact not correct, i.e, in our terms, NENA is not syntactically ergative, but morphologically ergative. Morphological ergativity has already been related to possessive analyses by Mahajan 1994.

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