I've noticed that in a lot of examples of "ergative languages," there is some piece of the language that does not fit the pattern we call "ergativity." For example, Basque does not mark ergative case in the progressive aspect, and Dyirbal pronouns have a nominative-accusative looking pattern.

Are there examples of a language where every aspect (no pun intended) of the language fits the mold of "ergativity?" Is it reasonable to expect to find one (do we expect a nominative-accusative language to be totally nominative-accusative)?

  • It's quite common in Australian languages to have the pronouns and the nouns work differently, as you describe for Dyirbal. I think most Mayan languages might fill the bill; they're all ergative with person and number prefixes. The ones used for ergatives double as personal possessive markers, while the absolutive prefixes appear on all verbs, transitive or intransitive. Very nice system.
    – jlawler
    Dec 10, 2019 at 3:05
  • Mayan is a really big family, and I've definitely seen languages in it that are split. If you have a more specific example, that might be helpful. Dec 10, 2019 at 3:29
  • Poqomchí is one I'm familiar with. But I can't swear there isn't any splitting.
    – jlawler
    Dec 10, 2019 at 4:56
  • Based on this paper, it seems like it could be a bit misleading to say that Basque "does not mark ergative case in the progressive aspect", since the object in a progressive construction might be contained in an embedded clause rather than acting as the direct object of the main clause Dec 12, 2019 at 0:14

1 Answer 1


According to the most widely accepted analysis Sumerian was a fully ergative (not split ergative) language. This is argued (for example) by Edzard in his Sumerian grammar pp. 90 sqq.

  • 3
    In this paper (cdli.ucla.edu/pubs/cdlp/cdlp0001_20160401.pdf), they claim that the Sumerian present agreement system is nominative-accusative. Dec 10, 2019 at 14:02
  • 3
    @matan-matika. Yes, and that Sumerian consequently does have split ergativity, explicitly contradicting Edzard. It looks as though the question is still debated.
    – fdb
    Dec 10, 2019 at 14:30

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