Ergative–accusative language

A tripartite language, also called an ergative–accusative language, is one that treats the agent of a transitive verb, the patient of a transitive verb, and the single argument of an intransitive verb each in different ways. This contrasts with nominative–accusative and ergative–absolutive languages. If the language has morphological case, the arguments are marked in this way:


In this Nez Perce intransitive sentence, the absolutive argument has no suffix and the verb carries the third person agreement prefix hi-:

Hi-páay-na háama
3NOM-arrive-ASP man.ABS
"The man arrived." [1]:126

In a transitive sentence with two third person arguments, the agent is marked with -n(i)m, the patient with -ne, and the verb with the third person transitive agreement marker pée-:

Háama-nm pée-'wi-ye wewúkiye-ne
man-ERG AN>-shoot-ASP elk-ACC
"The man shot the elk."[1]:126

The Ainu language of northern Japan also shows tripartite marking in its pronominal prefixes, with the first person Ku= being the ergative form, =an being the absolutive form and =en= being the accusative form. Ainu also shows the passive voice formation typical of nominative-accusative languages and the antipassive of ergative-absolutive languages. Like Nez Percé, the use of both the passive and antipassive is a trait of a tripartite language.

Tripartite languages are rare. Besides native American Nez Perce, they include the Vakh dialects of the Khanty language, Wangkumara, Semelai, and, in its singular pronouns, Kalaw Lagaw Ya. Yazghulami is tripartite, but only in the past tense.[2] Several constructed languages, especially engineered languages, use a tripartite case system or tripartite adposition system, notably Na'vi language.

See also


  • Nez Perce Verb Morphology
  • Rude, Noel. 1988. Ergative, passive, and antipassive in Nez Perce. In Passive and Voice, ed. M. Shibatani, 547-560. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
  • Kruspe, Nicole. 2004. A Grammar of Semelai. Cambridge University Press.

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.