Tripartite language


In this Nez Perce intransitive sentence, the intransitive argument has no suffix and the verb carries the third person agreement prefix hi-:

"The man arrived." [1]:126

In a transitive sentence with two third person arguments, the agent is marked with -n(i)m, the patient with -ne, and the verb with the third person on third person transitive agreement marker pée-:

"The man shot the elk."[1]:126

In Wangkumara, at least some pronouns are tripartite:[2]

"I died."
"I hit him/her."
"S/he hit me."[3]

The Ainu language of northern Japan also shows tripartite marking in its pronominal prefixes, with the first person Ku= being the ergative form, =an being the intransitive form and =en= being the accusative form. Ainu also shows the passive voice formation typical of nominative-accusative languages and the antipassive of ergative-absolutive languages. Like Nez Percé, the use of both the passive and antipassive is a trait of a tripartite language.

Tripartite languages are rare. Besides the above, they include the Vakh dialects of the Khanty language, Semelai, and, in its singular pronouns, Kalaw Lagaw Ya. In addition, Yazghulami is tripartite in the past tense.[4] Several constructed languages, especially engineered languages, use a tripartite case system or tripartite adposition system, notably the fictional Na'vi language featured in the 2009 movie Avatar.

See also


  1. Rude, Noel. 1986. Topicality, transitivity, and the direct object in Nez Perce. International Journal of American Linguistics 52:124-153.
  2. It is not clear from the reference if this is the 'old' or 'modern' Wangkumara language.
  3. Siewierska, p. 55.
  4. Dixon, R.M.W. (1994). Ergativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 40.
  • Nez Perce Verb Morphology
  • Noel Rude, 1988. Ergative, passive, and antipassive in Nez Perce. In Passive and Voice, ed. M. Shibatani, 547-560. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
  • Nicole Kruspe, 2004. A Grammar of Semelai. Cambridge University Press.
  • Anna Siewierska, 2004. Person, Cambridge University Press.
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