Unexpected distribution of ergative alignment: a case of innovation starting in the imperfective

AMERINDIA 43: 103-144, 2021

Natalia CÁCERES ARANDIA
SeDyL (Laboratoire Structure et Dynamique des Langues)

Abstract: Ye’kwana (mch, Cariban) is a language of Venezuela and Brazil spoken by about 9,000 people. An imperfective construction, cognate to a nominal construction, has introduced an ergative alignment in main clauses where all the other inflections, including past-perfectives, are non-ergative. This construction presents the same argument structure as the action nominalization: the absolutive (S/O) is prefixed as a verbal index and unmarked for case when overtly expressed; reference to the ergative (A) is not obligatory, but if an A (pro)noun occurs, it must be case marked. Typologically, it is unexpected that the sole innovative ergative main clause type identified to date in Ye’kwana codes the Imperfective aspect. This example can now be added to multiple counterexamples from the Cariban family, each independently innovated, demonstrating that claims of a universal correlation between ergativity per se with either past tense or perfective aspect can no longer be sustained. This paper analyzes the discourse distribution of the innovative construction based on a corpus-study.