Parameterizing split ergativity in Mayan

  • Yusuke ImanishiEmail author


The purpose of this paper is to explain the variation of Case alignment in the accusative side of the ergative split of Kaqchikel, Chol and Q’anjob’al (Mayan). In particular, I will address contrastive alignments found in their accusative side. In the accusative side of Kaqchikel, the intransitive subject and the transitive subject alike are cross-referenced by the absolutive morpheme (also known as the set B marker in Mayan linguistics). On the other hand, the object of a transitive verb is cross-referenced by the ergative morpheme (or the set A marker). In the accusative side of Chol and Q’anjob’al, by contrast, both the intransitive subject and the transitive subject are cross-referenced by the set A marker, while the set B marker cross-references the transitive object. This contrast is unexpected, given that these languages have a (nearly) identical biclausal structure for their accusative side, as I will claim building on Laka (2006) and Coon (2010a, 2013a): the aspectual predicate forms a biclausal structure with a nominalized clause. I will argue that the contrastive alignments found in Kaqchikel, Chol and Q’anjob’al follow from a parametric difference regarding the nominalization involved in the accusative side of these languages. It will be proposed that the Restriction on Nominalization (RON) holds for Kaqchikel, whereas it does not apply to Chol and Q’anjob’al: the nominalized verb must lack a syntactically projected external argument. The RON will be developed, based on a similar observation made for nominalizations in Greek and some Indo-European languages among others (Alexiadou 2001). As will be demonstrated, the presence or absence of the RON and the type of alignment patterns in the accusative side of the ergative split are causally connected.


Split ergativity Nominalization Case Parameter Comparative syntax 



I am indebted to my Kaqchikel consultants, Alberto Sipac Aju, Ana López de Mateo and Anacleto Catú, for their assistance with my fieldwork research and patience, without which this research would have been impossible. I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewers for NLLT, Jessica Coon, Sabine Iatridou, Hideki Kishimoto, Julie Anne Legate, Pedro Mateo Pedro, David Pesetsky, Masha Polinsky and Norvin Richards for their invaluable feedback and helpful suggestions. Special thanks to Julie Anne Legate for her editorial assistance and numerous helpful suggestions. I would also like to thank the audiences at WCCFL 32, the colloquia at Keio University and Kobe University, and Morphology and Lexicon Forum at Konan University. Unless otherwise noted, the Kaqchikel data are drawn from my field notes. Any shortcomings or errors in the data or analysis are my own. This research has been funded by MIT’s Ken Hale Fund for Fieldwork Research, the JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) (No.15K16752) and the JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (18K12388).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kwansei Gakuin UniversityNishinomiyaJapan

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