Split ergativity is not about ergativity

Jessica Coon and Omer Preminger

This chapter argues that split ergativity is epiphenomenal, and that the factors which trigger its appearance are not limited to ergative systems in the first place. In both aspectual and person splits, the split is the result of a bifurcation of the clause into two distinct case/agreement domains, which renders the clause structurally intransitive. Since intransitive subjects do not appear with ergative marking, this straightforwardly accounts for the absence of ergative morphology. Crucially, such bifurcation is not specific to ergative languages; it is simply obfuscated in nominative-accusative environments because there, by definition, transitive and intransitive subjects pattern alike. The account also derives the universal directionality of splits, by linking the structure that is added to independent facts: the use of locative constructions in nonperfective aspects (Bybee et al. 1994, Laka 2006, Coon 2013), and the requirement that 1st/2nd person arguments be structurally licensed (Bejar & Rezac 2003, Baker 2008, 2011, Preminger 2011, 2014).