Feature GB409: Is there any ergative alignment of flagging?



Are A arguments flagged differently from S arguments (i.e. do they show ergative alignment)? Flagging covers any kind of argument marking on the argument itself (e.g. by case or adposition marking). The marking can be phonologically free or bound. The marking of P arguments is not relevant for establishing whether there is any ergative flagging or not, it is the difference between S and A flagging that results in 1. In case of split flagging systems (specifically, split ergativity), code as 1 if any of the subsystems (e.g. only nouns or only pronouns, or a particular tense or person) shows ergative alignment. Note that although alignment types are occasionally associated with entire languages (e.g. when one says that "Dyirbal is an ergative language"), they in fact apply only to individual constructions. This question asks only about the alignment of flagging, the alignment of indexing or of any other construction is irrelevant for this question.


  1. Consider the section in the grammar that deals with nominal morphology, argument marking and/or basic clause structure. If no such section exists, consider examples of transitive and intransitive clauses, identify overt arguments in different roles (S, A, and P) and study their marking. The special A flag is often called ergative, but it can be labeled differently (e.g. agentive or instrumental).
  2. Check whether any of the S, A or P arguments are flagged in any context. Consider only the major predicate class, ignore any verbs with non-canonical/special flagging (e.g. the so-called ‘dative-subject’ or experiencer verbs). Consider only independent clauses.
  3. Code 0 if there is never overt flagging of any of the three arguments S, A, and P.
  4. Code 0 if S and A are always flagged identically, this includes cases with no overt flagging (i.e. zero marking).
  5. If there is a special flag for A, check whether it is used in all contexts. In particular, be aware of differences in flagging conditioned by a pronoun vs. noun distinction, person, animacy, definiteness, etc. (this situation is generally known as differential argument marking and in case of differential A marking as split ergativity). Code 1 even if only some pronouns or only some nouns (e.g. the inanimate ones) are flagged differently when they are A arguments. If, however, a small random class of nouns does not take a particular flagging for phonological or morphological reasons, ignore this class.
  6. If there are differences in flagging conditioned by TAM distinctions, consider the distribution in individual TAM contexts. Code 1 if S is flagged differently from A in some TAM categories.
  7. The so-called tripartite flagging pattern (S flagged differently from A and differently from P) receives 1 for both GB408 and GB409.


Yakkha (ISO 639-3: ybh, Glottolog: yakk1236)

In Yakkha all S and P arguments are in the unmarked nominative case, as in (a), (c) and (d). The A argument of the third person is marked with the ergative clitic =ŋa, as in (b), the first and second person A arguments are in the unmarked nominative, as in (e). The flagging with the ergative clitic =ŋa of some A arguments is sufficient to code Yakkha as 1 for this question (GB409). Furthermore, Yakkha is coded as 1 for GB410 Is there any neutral alignment of flagging?, as the flagging of the first and second person pronouns is neutrally aligned.

a. uŋci ‘3NSG’ as an S argument
nhaŋa     uŋci hani    hani    ta-ya-ma-ci=hoŋ      ka  lab-a-ma.
and.then  3NSG quickly quickly come-PST-PRF-DU=SEQ  1SG seize-PST-PRF
‘So they came quickly and got me down.’ (Schackow 2015: 537)

b. uŋci ‘3NSG’ as an A argument
uŋci=ŋa  kaniŋ kheps-a=ha.
‘They heard us.’ (Schackow 2015: 330)

c. ka ‘1SG’ as an S argument
ka  maŋcwa=be khe-me-ŋ=na.
1SG water=LOC go-NPST-1SG=NMLZ.SG 
‘I go to fetch water.’ (Schackow 2015: 127)

d. ka ‘1SG’ as a P argument
ka  ijaŋ cem-me-ŋ-ga=na?
1SG why  cut-NPST-1SG.P-2.A=NMLZ.SG
‘Why do you cut me?’ (Schackow 2015: 111)

e. ka ‘1SG’ as an A argument
ka   chem  chept-wa-ŋ=na.
1SG  song  write-NPST[3.P]-1SG.A=NMLZ.SG
‘I will write a song.’ (Schackow 2015: 121)

Further reading

Comrie, Bernard. 2013. Alignment of Case Marking of Full Noun Phrases. In Matthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds), The world atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2005. Argument marking in ditransitive alignment types. Linguistic Discovery 3(1).

Haspelmath, Martin. 2019. Indexing and flagging, and head and dependent marking. Te Reo (The Journal of the Linguistic Society of New Zealand) 62(1). 93–115.


Schackow, Diana. 2015. A grammar of Yakkha. (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 7.) Berlin: Language Science Press.

Other alignment of flagging questions * GB408 Is there any accusative alignment of flagging? * GB410 Is there any neutral alignment of flagging?

General questions about case marking * GB070 Are there morphological cases for non-pronominal core arguments (i.e. S, A or P)? * GB071 Are there morphological cases for phonologically independent personal pronominal core arguments (i.e. S, A or P)? * GB095 Are variations in marking strategies of core participants based on TAM distinctions?

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