Ergative-absolutive language

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Ergative-absolutive languages, sometimes called ergative languages, are languages where the subject of an intransitive verb and the object of a transitive verb behave the same way in a sentence. Both behave differently to the subject of a transitive verb.

In English and other nominative languages, the agent ("doer", she in She walked the dog) of a transitive verb and the subject ("doer", she in She walked) of an intransitive verb are both in the nominative case, and the object ("done-to", dog in She walked the dog) is in the accusative case.

In an ergative language, the agent of a transitive verb is in the ergative case, while the subject of an intransitive verb and the object of a transitive verb are in the absolutive case.

Some examples of ergative-absolutive languages include Basque, Georgian, Mayan and Tibetan.

If one sets: A = agent of a transitive verb; S = argument of an intransitive verb; O = object of a transitive verb, then we can contrast normal nominative–accusative English with a hypothetical ergative English:

Accusative English:

He (A) found me (O).
He (S) traveled.

(S form = A form)

Hypothetical ergative English:

He (A) found me (O).
Him (S) traveled.

(S form = O form)