'Optional' ergativity and the framing of reported speech

Alan Rumsey*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper focuses on optional ergative marking in the Papuan language Ku Waru and the Australian Aboriginal language Bunuba, especially in constructions with verbs of speaking. It addresses two interrelated issues: (i) What semantic and pragmatic factors are associated with the difference between ergative and non-ergative subject marking in languages where this is not strictly determined by whether the verb is grammatically transitive or intransitive; (ii) How are we to understand the grammatical relationship between verbs of speaking and the material they frame? In both languages that material behaves in some respects like a grammatical object. These locutionary objects differ among themselves in the extent to which they stand out as distinct speech events in relation to the framing one, and those differences are correlated with the presence or absence of ergative marking on the subject of the framing verb. I argue that Bunuba and Ku Waru optional ergative marking in this context can be accounted for by an extended version of Hopper and Thompson's notion of object individuation, in which the grammar treats the metalinguistic relationship between reported speech and that which reports it as analogous to that between Patient and Agent in canonical transitive clauses.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1652-1676
    Number of pages25
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


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