The discourse motivation for split-ergative alignment in Dutch nominalisations (and elsewhere)

Freek Van de Velde


Dutch nominalisations of the type het eten van vlees (‘the eating of meat’) have ergative alignment. The alignment is functionally motivated, in that it is a natural consequence of the flow of discourse. The functional account that is put forward here draws on the notion of Preferred Argument Structure (Du Bois 1987) and on the distinction between foregrounded and backgrounded discourse (Hopper & Thompson 1980). Support for this account comes from other domains of ergativity in Dutch, such as causativised predicates and participial constructions and from the observation that the alignment in Dutch nominalisations is in fact split-ergative. The present study adduces corpus evidence to corroborate the claims. In the last section, the analysis is cast in a Functional Discourse Grammar model (Hengeveld & Mackenzie 2008), including its hitherto underdescribed Contextual Component.

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