Prof. George Hewitt

Georgian - Ergative or Active?

"Georgian - Ergative or Active?". Lingua 'Studies in Ergativity' (special edition edited by R M W Dixon), 1987, 319-340.


Although the existence of ergativity has been known since nearly the beginning of the last century, widespread awareness of the phenomenon really dates only from the 1860s, when Uslar began publishing his works on the indigenous languages of the Caucasus, with which group of languages this feature has been particularly associated ever since (cf. Catford (1975,1976)). It is, therefore, rather surprising that in recent years it has become fashionable to seek to prove that this or that Caucasian language does not in fact provide any evidence of ergativity - e.g. Paris (1979) for Adyghe (North West Caucasian), Mel'čuk (1983) for Lezgian (North East Caucasian), both Klimov (1977) and Harris (1981,1982) for Georgian (South Caucasian), and again Harris (1985) for Georgian and its sister-languages. It is Harris’ activity-hypothesis that I wish to re-examine below, since the active-interpretation of the relevant phenomena in Georgian seems to be gaining favour (Merlan (1985)) and may easily become the definitive view amongst general linguists who, having no personal knowledge of the language(-family), will be unable to question its validity. The following defence of the traditional Ergative-interpretation will expand the basic arguments I have already given against Harris’ proposal (Hewitt (1983a)) and amplify existing suggestions and observations (cf. Fähnrich (1967), Anderson (1977), Boeder (1979)) on how a language with the particular ergative characteristics manifested by Georgian might shift the relevant features in the direction of either an active or nominative(-accusative) configuration.

The full text in PDF can be downloaded by clicking here

Quick Links


SOAS, University of London Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG.

  • Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4332

You are here: Home Articles Linguistics Georgian - Ergative or Active?