Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 101–144

Alignment and word order in Old Japanese


    • Institute of Modern Languages and CulturesUniversity of Tsukuba
  • John Whitman
    • Department of LinguisticsCornell University

DOI: 10.1007/s10831-009-9043-2

Cite this article as:
Yanagida, Y. & Whitman, J. J East Asian Linguist (2009) 18: 101. doi:10.1007/s10831-009-9043-2


This paper argues that Old Japanese (eighth century) had split alignment, with nominative-accusative alignment in main clauses and active alignment in nominalized clauses. The main arguments for active alignment in nominalized clause come from ga-marking of active subjects and the distribution of two verbal prefixes: i-for active predicates and sa- for inactive predicates (cf. Yanagida, In: Hasegawa (ed.) Nihongo no shubun genshô [Main clause phenomena in Japanese], 2007b). We review the treatment of non-accusative alignment and argue that active alignment should be analyzed as as a distinct type. We propose a formal analysis of active alignment in nominalized clauses in Old Japanese. The external argument is assigned inherent case, spelled out as ga, in situ in Spec, v. Object arguments are licensed by several distinct mechanisms, including incorporation (Yanagida, In: Miyamoto (ed.) MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 2007a) and case assignment by a functional head above vP. The latter accounts for the distinctive O wo S ga V word order of OJ nominalized clauses noted by Yanagida (J. of East Asian Linguistics, 2006). Inability to assign object case is a property of [nominal] v, as proposed by Miyagawa (Structure and case marking in Japanese. Syntax and Semantics, vol. 22, 1989). We discuss the diachronic origins of the OJ active alignment system and point out that it exemplifies a cross-linguistically attested pattern of non-accusative alignment in clauses that originate from nominalizations.


Active alignmentErgative alignmentSplit intransitivityCaseNominalizationVerbal prefixesClitic pronounsNominal hierarchy

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009