Subject Preference and Ergativity

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Subject Preference and Ergativity

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Title: Subject Preference and Ergativity
Author: Polinsky, Maria; Gallo, Carlos Gomez; Graff, Peter; Kravtchenko, Ekaterina

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Citation: Polinksy, Maria, Carlos Gomez Gallo, Peter Graff, and Ekaterina Kravtchenko. 2012. Subject preference and ergavity. Lingua 122(3): 267-277.
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Abstract: This paper presents the first-ever processing experiment on relativization in Avar, an ergative language with prenominal relatives. The results show no processing difference between the ergative subject gap and the absolutive object gap. The absolutive subject gap, however, is processed much faster. We propose a principled explanation for this result. On the one hand, Avar has a subject preference (cf. the Accessibility Hierarchy, Keenan and Comrie, 1977), which would make the processing of the ergative and the absolutive subject gap easier than the processing of the absolutive object gap. On the other hand, the ergative DP in a relative clause serves as a strong cue that allows the parser to project the remainder of the clause, including the absolutive object DP (cf. Marantz, 1991, 2000); such morphological cueing favors the absolutive object gap. Thus, two processing preferences, the one for subject relatives and the other for morphologically cued clauses, cancel each other out in terms of processing difficulty. As a result, reading time results for the ergative subject and absolutive object relative clauses are very similar. The overall processing results are significantly different from what is found in accusative languages, where subject preference and morphological cueing reinforce each other, leading to a strong transitive subject advantage.
Published Version: doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2011.11.004
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