These examples are from Kui, a Trans New Guinean language spoken on Alor island, Indonesia.

(1)  nya      yai   umasingin  u=ga=sam               u=ga=bur=i.
     1pl.Sub  v.    n.         appl=3sg.obj.Caus=adj  appl=3sg.obj.Caus=adj=perf
     we       come  mosque     it.make=soft           it.make=flat=already
     'We come to repair the mosque.'

(2)  na        er     u=sanam=i.
     1sg.Subj  n      Caus=adj=perf
     I         water  make.hot.already
     'I already heated the water.'

Prefix u- at the first sentence functions as an applicative marker but at the 2nd sentence, it behaves as an causative. Is it possible ?

  • Where is the Kui data from? Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 4:21
  • 1
    From my own research... I live in Kupang, Indonesia.. Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 4:27
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    What do applicative and causative markers have to do with nom/acc erg/abs systems? I don't understand what you're asking.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 8:16
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    Let me say that it is really good to see someone on here discussing original research instead of pasting stuff off Wikipedia. A very rare treat. From your examples I do not really see the function of u-. I think we need more material.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 12:44
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    Split ergative languages are more common than "pure" ergatives. Hindi has an ergative structure in the perfect tense; many Australian languages have an ergative-absolutive case system for nouns and an accusative-nominative case system for pronouns. And even English has some constructions that use ergative semantics (though not case-marking, of course).
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 16:24

1 Answer 1


Sticking to the question of the title, yes, some languages exhibit clearly both a nominative-accusative syntactic systems and an ergative-absolutive system. A famous example of such a language is Warlpiri, in which agreement follows a nominative-accusative pattern and case marking follows an ergative-absolutive system. References for this, and more generally the syntax of split ergativity, can be found (among many other sources) in the works of Julie Anne Legate.

  • I believe Basque has also mostly absolutive-ergative structure but in the past tense it goes to nominative-accusative one.
    – Eleshar
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 20:26

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