Nepali Case Assignment

In most commonly studied languages, the subjects of all sentences are marked the same way. In some less commonly studied languages including Nepali, however, subjects of transitive verbs are treated as subjects, while subjects of intransitive verbs are marked the same way as objects of transitive verbs. These are called “ergative” languages. If we imagine that English were an ergative language, the following pair of sentences would be grammatical:
“She saw him.”
“Him slept.” (rather than “He slept”).
There is an active debate among theoretical linguists about how to best explain why some languages work this way. The grammar of Nepali poses problems for many of the current theories, but Nepali is an understudied language and no account has yet been proposed to explain it. In this project we will analyze linguistic data gathered from Nepali speakers in northern India to formulate an explanation for subject marking in Nepali. Such an analysis stands to make significant contributions to the current debate on split ergative subject marking, and to what is known about the linguistic structure of Nepali.

Faculty Supervisor:

Jessica Coon


Martha Schwarz



Languages and linguistics



McGill University


Globalink Research Award

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