Please join us for a special edition of Syntax Group/Ergativity Lab, this Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. All are welcome!

Speaker:  Shobhana L. Chelliah (University of North Texas)

Title: The Source of Variability in Case and Semantic Role Marking in Tibeto-Burman

The predominant case marking pattern observed for Tibeto-Burman is non-obligatory morphological marking of A (transitive subject) and of S (intransitive subject) under various pragmatic and discourse conditions which cast A or S as as acontrastive or an otherwise foregrounded NP.  In one Tibeto-Burman language,Meitei, agent, patient, associative, and locative semantic role markers all have developed secondary pragmatic meanings associated with speaker expectations.  The same is true to some extent with other Tibeto-Burman languages as well. Additionally, when surveying recent descriptions of ergative languages, we see A/S marking curiously parallel in distribution to that found in Tibeto-Burman, with pragmatics or discourse structure determining the distribution of A/S marking.

It has been argued that case systems with pragmatic or discourse motivated marking have evolved from one of the known case-marking types and that this change has been  due to language contact or obsolescence. Given the examples of A/S case marking developing contrastive topic readings even with robust languages that have undergone little contact, it would appear that some other factor is at work.  I will argue that these case systems have developed through a process of language change by which certain grammatical categories increasingly reflect speaker perspective.