Ergativity in East Futunan Oral Narratives
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Ergativity in East Futunan Oral Narratives


East Futunan is an understudied Polynesian language spoken on the islands of Futuna and Alofi in the French Territory Wallis and Futuna. East Futunan has ergative/absolutive case alignment, a feature that occurs in many of the world’s languages, yet continues to intrigue linguists. East Futunan mostly exhibits ergative/absolutive case alignment morphologically, where the subject of an intransitive sentence and the object of a transitive sentence are marked with an absolutive particle a, and the subject of a transitive sentence is marked with an ergative particle e, but with some indications for syntactic ergativity in changes in word order and in certain agreement situations. This dissertation examines ergative/absolutive alignment in oral narratives found in archival data from the COCOON (Collections de Corpus Oraux Numériques) corpus and addresses three main topics. First, a variety of sentence structures are examined to see how speakers of East Futunan use ergative and absolutive arguments and case particles in different sentence structures in oral narratives. Next, this dissertation aims to address if East Futunan oral narratives have any sentences where an ergative or absolutive particle may be expected to be found, but does not occur, and possible reasons causing these omissions. Last, it is discussed if the ergative/absolutive case alignment system in East Futunan oral narratives is consistent with alignment systems in other Polynesian languages, Samoan and Tongan in particular. The findings indicate that there could be a syntactic, pragmatic, and discourse reasons why there is variation in the usage of ergative and absolutive particles. Features such as ergative avoidance and the context of previously mentioned arguments and their syntactic roles are examined in determining the motivation behind omitting an ergative or absolutive case particle. Additionally, this dissertation aims to use oral narratives to show East Futunan’s place in the larger Polynesian language family and how it is typologically similar to other Polynesian languages. It is shown that the syntax used in oral narratives has structural features that make East Futunan characteristically Polynesian, including a rich particle system, verb-initial word order, and structures such as reduplication and dual marking on pronouns. The oral narratives also show that East Futunan displays a case alignment system that is similar to other ergative/absolutive Polynesian languages in the form of its sentence structure and the function of its case marking. There is also evidence that other Polynesian languages omit case particles and that this ergative avoidance is done for a similar pragmatic reason in East Futunan. Finally, this dissertation adds to the body of work of this understudied language. East Futunan has a low number of speakers which continues to decrease, and adding to the documentation and analysis of this language will help preserve existing knowledge of this language, as well help future researchers of Polynesian languages add to their understanding of features and their usage. The analysis of an understudied language also adds to broader typological knowledge and the general understanding of the capabilities of human language.

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