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What’s in the head of head-marking languages?

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Abstract

Marking of clause participants’ semantic roles is an important concern in human languages. Dependent-marking languages mark semantic roles by means of nominal case affixes. This article explores the expression of roles in head-marking languages, using Athabaskan languages of North America as the main source of evidence. In head-marking languages clause participants are represented by personal pronominal affixes on the verbs. Linear morphological positions in which personal affixes appear in Athabaskan are functionally equivalent to nominal case affixes, while the construal of positions in terms of grammatical relations is misguided. The Athabaskan verb involves the following positions: nominative, accusative, dative, and oblique. A typology of role marking in other types of languages is proposed.

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