Is Basque morphologically ergative?
Western Basque vs. Eastern Basque
Although Basque’s case-marking pattern has conventionally been regarded as ergative, I argue in this article that it is not straightforward to determine whether this pattern is actually ergative or rather semantically-based. Several factors make this one a complex issue. Perhaps the most important factor among these, and one which has gone largely unnoticed in the literature, is the fact that there are clear dialectal differences regarding the behavior of lexically-simple unergative verbs. Another complication comes from establishing the specific contrast underlying the putative semantic split among Basque intransitives. With these questions in mind, I propose that the case-marking system of Western Basque should be considered semantically aligned instead of ergative. This system is based on a contrast patientive / non-patientive. Conversely, Eastern and Central Basque may be considered to have an ergative case-marking system, but one which differs in some respects from that of the most typical ergative languages and which is not too different from a semantic system.
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