Marked Nominative Case Systems

DFG-funded project 2006-2008


In most languages, a form that encodes accusative case will be longer than one which encodes nominative case. This is a well-known cross-linguistic generalization. In contrast, there are a few languages in which the nominative case is marked relative to the accusative. This project investigates these exceptional cases to learn more about the possibilities of human languages.

The goal of this project is to study the geographical distribution, typology and diachrony of this rare type of case system, which we call 'marked nominative/absolutive'. The defining characteristic of these systems is that there is an overt case-morpheme for the nominative/absolutive case (i.e., the case that is shared between intransitive and transitive constructions), in contrast to a non-overt (zero) morpheme for the accusative/ergative case. We investigate commonalities and differences among the anomalous case systems and relate them to case systems in general, to issues of formal vs. functional markedness, and, where possible, we shall seek to shed light on the origins and developments of the case systems.

  1. Official Title: Marked absolutive and marked nominative case systems
    in synchronic and diachronic perspective

  2. Funding: DFG Project CY 65/1-1, part of DFG Forschergruppe 742
    “Grammatik und Verarbeitung verbaler Argumente”

  3. Duration: 2006-2008

  4. Principal Investigator: Michael Cysouw

  5. Staff: Corinna Handschuh, Søren Wichmann

  6. Budget: 137.000 EUR