I want to stress the difference between ergative and non-ergative inflection with a minimal pair like the one below. Does the gloss and translation make the distinction sufficiently clear? Or is there a better way?:


'I killed him/her/it' (non-ergative)


1Obj-help-PAST 3FEM

'she helped me' (ergative)

  • Using any variation of "subject" or "object" in descriptions of ergative inflectional systems is poor practice. It's not clear that these terms have any useful meaning in ergative systems. Plus, minimal pairs are of actual utterances, not their glosses or abbreviated labels; from these I can't tell what's going on at all. Where does the benefactive use of 1Obj come from, for instance -- why isn't it 1Oblique? Without the data, the labels are irrelevant.
    – jlawler
    Jul 9, 2015 at 15:25
  • Thanks for the tip. I changed the examples to provide a more clear minimal pair (though still no language data - I'm still working on the orthographic representaiton so everything is still preliminary)
    – Teusz
    Jul 9, 2015 at 15:43
  • Does -PST mean -PAST?
    – jlawler
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:26
  • 1
    I'd suggest looking at some grammars of Australian languages, the majority of which have 'ergative' case-marking systems (well, typically they're split systems but the majority of nominals will show ergative marking). Jul 9, 2015 at 22:21
  • @jlawler yes, pst is PAST
    – Teusz
    Jul 10, 2015 at 5:34

1 Answer 1


The most commonly used generic guidelines for glossing in linguistics are the Leipzig Glossing Rules. Your best bet is to use their labels. Depending on what exactly it is you want to show, you can either use their labels A and P (agent- and patient-like arguments of transitive verbs) and S (sole argument of intransitive), or ERG and ABS. So your "1Subj" would be "1.SG.S" or "1.SG.ABS", your "1Obj" would be "1.SG.P" or "1.SG.ABS", and your "3Fem" would be "3.F.SG.ERG", or similar.

That said, it's hard to answer the question without knowing what is actually marked on the morphemes in question in these languages, what is syncretic, etc.

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