, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 315-342
Date: 05 May 2010

DP ellipsis in Tongan: is syntactic ergativity real?

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Abstract

This paper proposes that syntactic ergativity should be understood as a construction-based phenomenon rather than a parametric property that defines a subset of morphologically ergative languages. It argues that syntactic ergativity arises when the relevant operation is sensitive to (abstract) Case. Since not all syntactic operations are sensitive to Case, it is expected that some morphologically ergative languages do not show syntactic ergativity, or even demonstrate syntactic split ergativity. As an illustration, two types of coordination reduction in Tongan (Polynesian) are examined: pea-coordination showing an ergative/absolutive pattern and mo-coordination showing a nominative/accusative pattern. It is argued that DP ellipsis in pea-coordination is a Case-sensitive operation, i.e., PF deletion based on featural identity, whereas mo-coordination involves a null pronoun and LF copying, which is based on positional identity, regardless of Case.