The structural representation of ergativity in Northeast Caucasian

2022. №3, 75-108

Ekaterina A. Lyutikova
Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Pushkin State Russian Language Institute, Moscow, Russia;


The paper discusses the syntactic mechanisms underlying morphological ergativity in Khwarshi (Tsezic / Northeast Caucasian) and argues for a structural representation of the functional opposition of case forms — absolutive vs. other grammatical cases (including the ergative) vs. semantic cases — found in Northeast Caucasian languages. Specifi cally, it shows that the Khwarshi ergative DP is best analyzed as structurally case-marked, thus providing support for Maria Polinsky’s analysis of the ergative in Tsez, another language belonging to the same family. It also claims that among the non-absolutive subjects found in Tsez, ergative and dative subjects exhibit similar behavior and therefore pattern together structurally, while locative subjects and non-subject oblique arguments should be treated differently, as PPs. This claim is supported by a novel diagnostic of the syntactic category of case forms based on the selectional restrictions of the Khwarshi attributive morpheme. Finally, the paper argues against the widely accepted view that absolutives represent structurally case-marked DPs and provides evidence for their case-less DP status.

For citation:

Lyutikova E. A. The structural representation of ergativity in Northeast Caucasian. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2022, 3: 75–108.


I am deeply indebted to my colleagues Yakov Testelets, Marina Chumakina, Pavel Grashchenkov and Maria Polinsky for their inspiring, generous and friendly help. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my consultants in Khonokh for their assistance and patience. The comments and advice of the reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. This work is developed within the Interdisciplinary scientific and educational school of Moscow University “Brain, cognitive systems, artifi cial intelligence” and supported from the project “Parametric description of the languages of Russian Federation” realized at Pushkin State Russian Language Institute.