Among linguists, split
“If the Romans had been obliged to learn Latin, they would never have found the time to conquer the world.”
(1) a. Bob-o ham sub-by Bob-NOM eat.PRS sandwich-ACC ‘Bob eats the sandwich.’ b. Sub-br nja philly-ø sandwich-ERG need.PRS cream cheese-ABS ‘The sandwich needs more cream cheese.’
Bloomfield’s observation is contradicted by the following data reported by Hockett (1946):
(2) Tja-br ham trsk-ø Charles-ERG eat.PRS tomato-ABS ‘Charles eats the tomato.’
Hockett proposes that split ergativity in Southern Quiznos does not follow distinctions on the basis of animacy, but on the basis of shape. While sandwiches are usually square in the cultural setting of Southern Quiznos, cheeses come in the traditional shape of small balls. Tomatoes have a similarly round shape.
“Grammar, which knows how to lord it over kings, and with high hands makes them obey its laws.”
—Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere
The present paper argues that the seemingly unpredictable split-
The first constraint is, quite in line with the proposal of Bloomfield (1924), that animate subject referents should be marked with the nominative case. This constraint will be called the ANIMACY constraint. As the data from Hockett (1946) and Mithun (1984) show, this constraint is violable. A seemingly obvious question that linguists have failed to ask is under what circumstances ANIMACY can be violated. Apparently, other constraints hold in Southern Quiznos that outrank the importance of marking animate subject referents with the nominative case, as shown in (2).
“I am the King of Rome, and above grammar.”
(3) black/white > red > green > yellow > blue > brown
Objects to the right of the color red are usually marked with the accusative case, while objects to the left are marked with the absolutive. The constraint that ensures this marking will be called the RED CROSS constraint, because the marking crosses over at the color red. RED CROSS predicts that black objects will receive absolutive marking, which is confirmed in sentences such as ‘Bob hit the chimney-sweep.’
With RED CROSS outranking ANIMACY, many of the problematic data in the literature on Southern Quiznos can be explained, but unfortunately there are still problem cases such as (4), which have been brought up by Lucy (1991).
(4) Tja-o ham trsk-ky Charles-NOM eat.PRS tomato-ACC ‘Charles eats the tomato.’
“ ‘Children, don’t speak so coarsely,’ said Mr. Webster, who had a vague notion that some supervision should be exercised over his daughters’ speech, and that a line should be drawn, but never knew quite when to draw it. He had allowed his daughters to use his library without restraint, and nothing is more fatal to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library.”
The proposed account shows that optimality theory can straighten out even the worst things that languages come up with.
Berlin, B. & Kay, P. 1969. Basic Color Terms. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bloomfield, L. 1924. Notes on Southern Quiznos. International Journal of American Linguistics 3.
Hockett, C. 1946. Quiznos revisited. Occasional papers in culinary linguistics 12 1/2.
Lucy, J. 1991. Tomatoes. Shape and Color. In International Dictionary of Anthropologists. New York: Garland.
Mithun, M. 1984. The ketchup soaked the chocolate chip cookie. Language 60/4.