The Rise and Fall of Ergativity in Aramaic: Cycles of Alignment Change

ISBN : 9780198723806

Eleanor Coghill
368 ページ
156 x 234 mm
Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics

This book traces the changes in argument alignment that have taken place in Aramaic during its 3000-year documented history. Eastern Aramaic dialects first developed tense-conditioned ergative alignment in the perfect, which later developed into a past perfective. However, while some modern dialects preserve a degree of ergative alignment, it has been eroded by movement towards semantic/Split-S alignment and by the use of separate marking for the patient, and some dialects have lost ergative alignment altogether. Thus an entire cycle of alignment change can be traced, something which had previously been considered unlikely. Eleanor Coghill examines evidence from ancient Aramaic texts, recent dialectal documentation, and cross-linguistic parallels to provide an account of the pathways through which these alignment changes took place. She argues that what became the ergative construction was originally limited mostly to verbs with an experiencer role, such as 'see' and 'hear', which could encode the experiencer with a dative. While this dative-experiencer scenario shows some formal similarities with other proposed explanations for alignment change, the data analysed in this book show that it is clearly distinct. The book draws important theoretical conclusions on the development of tense-conditioned alignment cross-linguistically, and provides a valuable basis for further research.


Series preface
List of maps and tables
Abbreviations and glosses
Map 1: North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic Dialects, Turoyo, and Mlahso
1 Introduction
2 Alignment
3 Aramaic
4 Alignment in Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects
5 The verbal system and alignment in earlier Eastern Aramaic
6 The origin and development of the Qtil li construction
7 The decline of ergative alignment and new developments
8 Conclusions
Appendix A: All cases of Qtil li from the Syriac corpus
Appendix B: Examples of Qtil li gathered from Syriac secondary sources and other miscellaneous examples
Appendix C: Examples of Qtil li from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic
Appendix D: Examples of Qtil li from Classical Mandaic
Appendix E: Verb lexemes found in Prefix Conjugation forms in the Syriac Corpus


Eleanor Coghill studied Assyriology, Arabic, and Hebrew at the University of Cambridge, before specializing in the study of the endangered dialects of Neo-Aramaic, spoken in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Following a PhD and Junior Research Fellowship also at Cambridge, she worked on the Cambridge North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic Project, documenting some of the huge dialectal diversity of the language. She has also investigated aspects of change in Aramaic, both short and long term. Between 2010 and 2015 she was at the Zukunftskolleg and Department of Linguistics at the University of Konstanz, leading a project funded by the German Research Council on how the grammar of Neo-Aramaic dialects has been affected by contact with neighbouring languages. This was followed by a research position on the Language and Space project at the University of Zurich. As of 2016 she is Professor of Semitic Languages at Uppsala University.