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Austronesian Alignment
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Demystifying the strangest natural alignment
This public article was written by KathTheDragon, and last updated on 17 Apr 2015, 21:46.

[comments] Menu 1. Morphological Setup 2. The Alignment
[top]Morphological Setup

In this article, I'll be using examples from a hypothetical language exhibiting austronesian alignment. I'll gloss morphemes in this section as a reference for the examples later on. The grammatical terms used for the gloss will be explained in the discussion of the system.
  • -an ~ patient trigger
  • -us ~ agent trigger
  • -ir ~ locative trigger
  • -iw ~ dative trigger
  • la- ~ direct case
  • ti- ~ accusative case
  • nu- ~ ergative case
  • sa- ~ locative case
  • wa- ~ dative case
  • kara ~ man
  • yilut ~ child
  • sanim ~ cat
  • tur ~ dog
  • ka ~ I
  • kisanat ~ store
  • nas ~ see
  • kinun ~ want
  • lanu ~ burp
  • kisan ~ buy
  • sun ~ walk


[top]The Alignment

Austronesian alignment isn't really an alignment itself - at its simplest, the system switches between ergative and accusative alignment according to external factors. The switching is determined by a focus trigger, which means that the alignment is determined by which argument is under the focus. The two trigger morphemes - patient trigger and agent trigger - indicate whether the argument under the focus is the agent or the patient, and the direct case indicates this argument. Of the other two cases, the ergative case is used for the agent and the accusative is used for the patient, and are employed for the argument not under the focus. The following examples should help demonstrate the system (focus is underlined).

nas-us nu-kara la-sanim
see-<small>PATIENT_TRIGGER</small> ERGErgative (case)
TRANS subject; agent
-man DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-cat
The man saw the cat.

nas-an ti-sanim la-kara
see-<small>AGENT_TRIGGER</small> ACCAccusative (case)
TRANS direct object; patient
-cat DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-man
The man saw the cat.

kinun-us nu-yilut la-tur
want-<small>PATIENT_TRIGGER</small> ERGErgative (case)
TRANS subject; agent
-child DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-dog
The child wanted the dog.

kinun-an ti-tur la-yilut
want-<small>AGENT_TRIGGER</small> ACCAccusative (case)
TRANS direct object; patient
-dog DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-child
The child wanted the dog.

Of course, the trigger system doesn't apply to intransitives - there you can leave the whole sentence unmarked (as I have done), or assign marking. If you do mark, you could either say that one trigger is always used, or use both triggers analogously to active-stative languages.

lanu ka
burp IInterjection (POS)
I burped.

You can also put the focus on adpositional phrases by using a trigger for that adposition. Compare the following:

kisan-us nu-kara sa-kisanat la-sanim
buy-<small>PATIENT_TRIGGER</small> ERGErgative (case)
TRANS subject; agent
-man LOCLocative (case)
'in, on, at' etc
-store DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-cat
The man bought the cat at the store.

kisan-an ti-sanim sa-kisanat la-kara
buy-<small>AGENT_TRIGGER</small> ACCAccusative (case)
TRANS direct object; patient
-cat LOCLocative (case)
'in, on, at' etc
-store DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-man
The man bought the cat at the store.

kisan-ir ti-sanim nu-kara la-kisanat
buy-<small>LOCATIVE_TRIGGER</small> ACCAccusative (case)
TRANS direct object; patient
-cat ERGErgative (case)
TRANS subject; agent
-man DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-store
The man bought the cat at the store.

Note also how these phrases interact with intransitives:

sun wa-kisanat ka
walk DATDative (case)
indirect object; beneficiary
-store IInterjection (POS)
I walked to the store

sun-iw ka la-kisanant
walk-<small>DATIVE_TRIGGER</small> IInterjection (POS) DRCTDirect (case)
unmarked case, may eg. contrast with oblique
-store
I walked to the store

With intransitives, it should be mentioned that my choice to not use a case for the subject was arbitrary, and you could make a case (no pun intended) for using either ergative or accusative when not under the focus. Or, you could go the route of active-stative, and use both.
Comments (5)
[link] [quote] 05-Jul-17 11:47
ϰKúantan Clan
Kúanta, now a collab somewhere
 Benjaminmb 
In some austronesian-alignment languages, are the case and its respective trigger the same?
[link] [quote] 02-Jul-17 08:12
Pro Parshita
The best linguistic fustercluck on Sahar
 Echethesi 
Just to confirm the below, I had worked with a Tagalog speaker in a class in which we conducted mock fieldwork. So we'd ask the speaker to translate a given sentence in English into Tagalog, then we'd record what they said, with the end goal of writing a draft grammar of the language. We knew ahead of time that Tagalog featured (a variant of) this system, so we tried to elicit examples of it, but the speaker we worked with kept using the same focus* (agent focus) until we asked him to put the emphasis on the patient.

*He would occasionally use the patient focus when the English sentence had the agent as indefinite and the patient as definite, which threw us off for a while. Goes to show that definiteness and topicality are related.
[link] [quote] 13-Jun-17 13:10
High Council of CWS
Staff of CWS
 KathTheDragon [STAFF]
Pretty much what alice said. The focus is, more or less, equivalent to putting emphasis on a word in English.
[link] [quote] 13-Jun-17 12:29
Pagans of CWS
For members of any pagan faith or those interested
 alexis 
@Benjaminmb Just whatever argument you want to be stressed. I believe it's usually just the topic of the sentence.
[link] [quote] 13-Jun-17 11:44
ϰKúantan Clan
Kúanta, now a collab somewhere
 Benjaminmb 
How do you choose where to put the focus?
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