The case of the shifty ergative marker: A pragmatic shift in the ergative marker of one Australian mixed language

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Gurindji Kriol is a mixed language spoken in northern Australia. It is derived from Gurindji, a Pama-Nyungan language, and Kriol, an English-lexifier creole language. Gurindji Kriol has adopted the argument marking systems from both source languages; case marking, specifically the ergative marker, from Gurindji, and svo word order from Kriol. These two systems of argument marking were brought into contact and competition in the formation of the mixed language with two results: (i) word order has emerged as the dominant system in the mixed language, and (ii) ergative marking is optional. In this paper I argue that, though the ergative marker continues to contribute to argument disambiguation, its primary function is to accord discourse prominence to the agentivity of a nominal.


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