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Ergativity in Suleimaniye Kurdish

By Robyn C. Friend, 1985

Suleimaniye Kurdish, an Iranian language spoken in Suleimaniye, Iraq, shows evidence of both ergative/absolutive and nominative/accusative structures. Using test criteria from the field of relational grammar, it is possible to determine the presence or absence of ergativity in the syntax and morphology of Suleimaniye Kurdish. The results of the application of these tests show that while there is no solid evidence of ergativity in Suleimaniye Kurdish syntax, there is evidence of ergativity in the morphology, more specifically, in the past-tense transitive construction.


In this paper, I will discuss ergativity specifically with regard to Suleimaniye Kurdish. In the case of any one particular language, it may not always be obvious whether the grammar is ergative/absolutive or nominative/accusative; this is true partially because grammars which employ features of the ergative/absolutive system tend to employ a combination of both systems, rather than being purely ergative. Indeed, Moravscik claims that "all human languages have both some ergative and also some accusative patterns" [ 1978a:275 ].

In this paper I will define a set of criteria which attempts to permit the following determinations: (a) whether or not a particular language exhibits characteristics of ergativity in certain aspects of its morphology; and (b) whether or not a particular language exhibits characteristics of ergativity in certain aspects of its syntax. Note, however, that such tests should be considered indicative rather than conclusive; not all these tests have an equal chance of giving results, and even the most thoroughly ergative language may show some nominative/accusative structures in its grammar (e.g., pronouns in Dyirbal show nominative/accusative inflection [ Dixon 1979:64 ] ). The theoretical bases for these criteria are drawn in part from work by linguists in the fields of relational grammar and language universals; specific authors are cited in the text. The prime innovators of such tests and their use in this fashion are S. Anderson [ 1976 ] and R.M.W. Dixon [ 1979 ]. Once I have established these criteria, I will apply them to the grammar of Suleimaniye Kurdish.


Ergativity in Suleimaniye Kurdish
Robyn C. Friend, Ph.D.
Originally presented at the Middle East Studies Association 1985 Annual Meeting
November 1985

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