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This paper provides a preliminary description of the comparative construction in Tujia (northern dialect; NT), an endangered ergative Tibeto-Burman (TB) language spoken in China, in the context of the typologically diverse ways in which comparative meaning is expressed. In mono-clauses in NT, comparative marking depends on the position of the standard (i.e., that which is compared to). The standard may be marked with an ablative marker, or a topic marker if it appears in sentence-initial position due to left dislocation; otherwise, the comparandum (i.e., that which is to be compared) is assigned an ergative marker. Ergative on the comparandum and ablative on the standard can both occur but this is not obligatory. We propose that the ablative is the primary comparative marker in NT. However, this construction is subject to variation: the ablative marker is being replaced by a topic marker on the standard or by an ergative marker on the comparandum. We analyze this as change in progress (partly as a result of language contact); specifically, we propose that an ergative marker on the comparandum is starting to function as a focus marker, and in which the comparative meaning is derived from reanalysis. On the other hand, the comparative meaning in constructions where the standard is marked with a topic marker is proposed to result from the functional extension of the topic structure to comparative constructions. Both ergative marking on the comparandum and topic marking on the standard are typologically rare. Thus, the analysis of comparison marking in Tujia contributes to the typological understanding of comparative constructions in general.

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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keywords: comparative marking ; topic marker ; ablative marker ; Tujia ; ergative marker
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