LINGUIST List 6.683

Sun 14 May 1995

Disc: Burmese

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "RANDY J. LAPOLLA", Re: 6.619, Sum: Burmese

Message 1: Re: 6.619, Sum: Burmese

Date: Mon, 01 May 1995 17:31:23 Re: 6.619, Sum: Burmese
Subject: Re: 6.619, Sum: Burmese

I would like to mention two things about the summary posted April 26
(LINGUIST 6.619, Sum: Burmese): The poster of the summary
edited out several lines of my reply, which by itself is not a problem, as
he said the replies were edited, but I do have a bit of a problem with the
fact that he also added two sentences to the summary of my views,
making it seem as if I had written them in my original reply.
I'm afraid the added sentences, together with the ommision of one segment,
may give the reader the wrong idea of what I meant to say, particularly
given the background of the debate on this question. For this reason I
would like to quote in full the relevant parts of the message I sent in

response to the original query:

>I work on Sino-Tibetan diachronic morphosyntax,
>and my research has shown that no ergative or accusative marking
>can be reconstructed back beyond the "branch" level. For example,
>under ST you have Chinese and Tibeto-Burman, and under Tibeto-Burman
>you have some large groupings such as Bodic and Burmic and Karenic,
>and under these you have various branches. The oldest ergative marker
>(the one with the widest genetic distribution) is the -s erg/abl/inst
>marker of the Bodish (Tibetan) branch. This is only reconstructable to
>Bodish, not to Bodic, the higher level grouping. The accusative marking found,
>mostly of the type I refer to as "anti-ergative" (or "anti-agentive")
>marking, is even younger, as even very closely related languages
>often differ in either having it or not, or in terms of what form they
>use. Ergative marking usually develops out of an ablative marker,
>while the anti-ergative marking usually develops out of a locative/
>allative marker. It is even questionalble whether or not a locative
>postposition can be reconstructed to PTB. The fact that the marking in
>languages like Burmese is used simply when needed to disambiguate agents
>from non-agents (both types of marking basically have this same function)
>also leads one to thing that this is a recently developed type of marking.
>That is, according to most theories of grammaticalization, the fact that
>it has not really become paradigmatic would show that it is at an early
>stage of grammaticalization. This contrasts with some of the derivational
>morphology and the two negative morphemes, which can very easily be
>reconstructed to PTB and in most cases (except for the prohibitive
>negative morpheme) goes back to PST.

The second point I'd like to mention here is that my message and the other
respondents were in a sense answering different questions. I was addressing
the question of whether the types of non-paradigmatic (non-obligatory)
ergative and anti-ergative marking in languages like Burmese represent
recent innovations within the context of Tibeto-Burman, or whether this sort
of system can be reconstructed back to Proto-Tibeto-Burman or
The other respondents largely seemed to deal with the specifics of the use
of the postpositions in Burmese. I have no major disagreements with
those views. The main point is that the marking is not obligatory in the sense
that case marking is in, for example, Russian, or the way verb agreement is
in English.

Randy LaPolla
Institute of History and Philology
Academia Sinica
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue