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Split Ergativity in Tima

SFB 1252 Prominence - Project B2

Researcher: Prof. Dr. Gerrit J. Dimmendaal, Prof. Dr. Birgit Hellwig, Dr. Gertrud Schneider-Blum, Dr. Isabel Compes, Tatjana Schnellinger

Prominence relations are traditionally described by means of various hierarchies. Recent work has identified some problems with these hierarchies, especially in languages with alignment systems other than those with a nominative-accusative system. For example, the semantic role hierarchy accords prominence to agents, but it is not immediately obvious whether this also holds true for languages with e.g. an ergative alignment where it is sometimes claimed that patients outrank agents. This project focuses on Tima, a Niger-Congo language in Sudan with split ergativity (differential subject marking). It provides an in-depth analysis of this system, paying special attention to investigating the role of agentivity as a prominence feature, its relation to animacy, and its interaction with focus and tense/aspect marking.

From a synchronic perspective, this project will investigate the factors that trigger ergative marking. It focuses on investigating the semantic properties of AGENTS, paying special attention to the features animacy and volitionality, as well as investigating their interaction with other factors that are tentatively assumed to not be prominence-related (i.e. tense/aspect marking and focus marking). From a diachronic perspective, the project traces the development of ergativity in this language by way of a systematic morphosyntactic comparison with the closely related languages Katla and Julud that exhibit markedly different alignment systems.