Ergativity in Gjarrda
(For best results, install the Gjarrda TrueType font, Lhoerr, to read examples written in Gjarrda, and the Zirinka font to read examples in Jaradh and Zharranh.)
Gjarrda, like many languages, divides verbs into two classes: transitive and intransitive. The subject of an intransitive verb takes the absolutive case, which is the form of a noun given in the Gjarrda dictionary. In the most typical (unmarked) word order, the verb comes first, followed by the subject:
lyb ka cufe lueb ka kjufei
[empty the-(INANIM.) box-(ABS.)]
"the box is empty"
Intransitive verbs in Gjarrda often take the place of adjectives in other languages. For instance, "the empty box" in Gjarrda can be translated "the box that is empty" (ka cufe n8 lyb ka kjufei neo lueb). The word for "that" or "which" (n8 neo) is optional after a noun in the absolutive case, which makes the word lyb lueb appear to be an adjective (ka cufe lyb ka kjufei lueb "the empty box"). However, it is still a verb, and it can be conjugated for tense, aspect, voice, and mood (ka cufe lybEn ka kjufei lueben "the box that used to be empty; the formerly empty box").
Transitive verbs in Gjarrda have a subject and an object, typically in that order, after the verb. Unlike English and most other familiar languages, which use the same case (nominative) for the subject of both transitive and intransitive verbs, Gjarrda uses the ergative case for the subject of a transitive verb and the absolutive case for the direct object. The ergative suffix for nouns of the animate class is -Ra -ra, as the following example demonstrates.
cikse ja nikRa ka zaci kjiksei ya nikra ka zakji
[eat-IMPERF. the-(ANIM.) mouse-ERG. the-(INANIM.) cheese]
"the mouse is eating the cheese"
In English, the direct object "cheese" may be omitted, but not the subject "mouse". However, the opposite is true in Gjarrda: cikse ka zaci kjiksei ka zakji "an unspecified subject is eating the cheese; the cheese is being eaten". Thus, when used as an "adjective", cikse kjiksei means "being eaten".
How would "the mouse is eating" be translated into Gjarrda? One possibility is to supply a dummy object, such as mW meu "something" (cikse ja nikRa mW kjiksei ya nikra meu). However, Gjarrda also allows the verb to be put into a special form called the antipassive voice by adding the suffix -vi -vi. (Voice suffixes precede tense and aspect suffixes in Gjarrda.) A transitive verb in the antipassive voice turns into an intransitive verb with the subject in the absolutive case, and the former object of the transitive verb (if expressed) in the genitive case immediately following the verb.
cikvis ja nik kjikvis ya nik
[eat-ANTIPASS.-IMPERF. the mouse-(ABS.)]
"the mouse is eating"
cikvis ka zacie ja nik kjikvis ka zakji'ei ya nik
[eat-ANTIPASS.-IMPERF. the cheese-GEN. the mouse-(ABS.)]
"the mouse is eating the cheese"
English allows the subject of a clause to be omitted if it is the same as the subject of a preceding clause: "the mouse is sitting and (the mouse is) eating the cheese". However, Gjarrda has ergative syntax as well as ergative morphology, and only allows nouns in the absolutive case to be omitted. Thus, the second clause in the preceding sentence needs to be translated in the antipassive voice.
koz8s ja nik au cikvis ka zacie (ja nik) kozeos ya nik au kjikvis ka zakji'ei (ya nik)
[sit-IMPERF. the mouse and eat-ANTIPASS.-IMPERF. the cheese-GEN. (the mouse)]
"the mouse is sitting and (the mouse is) eating the cheese"
However, "the cheese is delicious and the mouse is eating it" may be expressed more simply, since "the cheese" is in the absolutive case in both clauses.
Lym ka zaci au cikse ja nikRa (ka zaci) ljuem ka zakji au kjiksei ya nikra (ka zakji)
[is-delicious the cheese and eat-IMPERF. the mouse-ERG. (the cheese)]
"the cheese is delicious and the mouse is eating it"
Jaradh, a Zireen language, follows the same pattern as Gjarrda, and Zharranh is very similar. For instance, this is how "the cheese is delicious and the mouse-fairy is eating it" would be expressed in Jaradh and Zharranh:
Jaradh: ssogerlee ahnee rlh tjgerhne nhsegm kluicii yazii ca muidhazi zagius
[is-delicious cheese and eat-IMPERF. mouse-fairy-ERG.]
Zharranh: rh njfne naf moemiena qmih tjeqahn nhnjemi dha vezi je slishij tsha micaz zavish
[is cheese of-quality delicious and eat-IMPERF. mouse-fairy-ERG.]
"the cheese is delicious and the mouse-fairy is eating it"
Ergative morphology is common among the languages of the "furry people" (Zireen, Sangari, Kireethin, Azirian, Thrinn, Zoray, Nikta, Neyasai), but uncommon in other humanoid languages (Human, Fairy, Mizarian, Pravallian, Vulpeculan). For instance, the word for "master" is in the absolutive case in the Nikta sentence "the master speaks" (moq'n!tam !tl³ásn!tteuk'), but the ergative case in "the master tortures the slave" (!t³q'áqteuin!tam !tl³ásn!tteukk'a ts'èrshn!cítt'). In the Thrinn language Shirra, the word for "rock" is in the absolutive case in "a rock falls" (kitha maki) as well as "I drop a rock" (kitha shar maki). Thrinn languages such as Shirra commonly use the same verb (kitha) as both a transitive verb (drop) and an intransitive verb (fall). In addition, an intransitive verb can be converted to a transitive verb with a different meaning by putting the subject into the dative case: "I take a rock" (kitha shai maki), literally "a rock to me falls". ("I am hit by a falling rock" is kitha maki shai.) Both ergative and dative "subjects" can be used with the same verb to represent a transaction: "I give her a rock" (kitha shar hai maki).
Kazvarad, a human language of the planet Sharnirazva, is one of a number of languages that have a "split ergative" morphology, with ergative marking for nouns and accusative for pronouns. The absolutive case is used for "the cat" in "the cat is sitting" (mishadat kazin) as well as "I see the cat" (mishadat kalaza), but the ergative case is used in "the cat sees me" (mishadimat kalazva). The pronoun "I", however, uses the nominative form -a in "I am sitting" (kazina) and "I see the cat", but the accusative form -va in "the cat sees me".