Eva van Lier Marlou van Rijn

Argument coding in nominalizations of Central-Eastern Oceanic languages

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This study investigates the marking of S, A, and P arguments in (unmarked) syntactic nominalizations of 28 Central-Eastern Oceanic languages with possessive systems that formally distinguish alienable from inalienable possession. First, we consider differential possessive marking of arguments. We find that in the majority of sample languages agents (A and/or SA arguments) can take inalienable marking. This pattern contradicts a standardly invoked account of differential possessive marking, based on the semantic factor of control, which holds that agents take alienable marking. Instead, we account for the distribution of inalienable possessive marking in terms of a hierarchy of argument types. This hierarchy is motivated by a relative rather than an absolute effect of control, in interaction with transitivity. Moreover, a number of additional factors may co-determine the choice of possessive agent marking. Second, we adress the distribution and alignment of possessive as opposed to sentential argument marking in nominalizations. We compare our findings with the world-wide typology of argument marking in nominalizations, and with main clause alignment patterns. We find that S and A arguments may take possessive marking independently of alignment in main clauses of individual languages. We attribute this finding to the referential properties shared between agents and prototypical possessors.


  • alienable/inalienable possession
  • alignment
  • argument marking
  • nominalizations
  • Oceanic languages


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