https://www.duolingo.com/ElijahCFGolpe

What is Austronesian Alignment?

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Hello everybody!

It has come to my attention that Austronesian Alignment (a.k.a. the Philippine-Type Voice System) is not well-known in the language community. If you are familiar with Nominative-Accusative Alignment, I hope you also are familiar with Ergative-Absolutive Alignment. To be familiar, or even just simply know of, those two alignments will help you be interested in this post! If neither, you might struggle with understanding some things or why this is important.

Austronesian Alignment is very helpful for understanding a lot of Austronesian Languages' grammars (and most popularly, a lot of Philippine Languages also have Austronesian Alignment).
Many people wrongfully categorize Austronesian Languages as either only Nominative or only Ergative, messing up and confusing the grammar of the languages, as Austronesian Alignment is both and neither Nominative and Ergative. ;) You can find out why through the link at the bottom - in the Description tab of the Wikipedia Page


The best way to explain Austronesian Alignment is to use examples. I will be using the Cebuano/Bisaya Language as it is the Austronesian Alignment Language that I am most familiar with.

In Austronesian Alignment Languages, arguments are commonly marked with Noun Markers. The Agent is marked with its own noun marker, and the Object may be marked with its own, respective noun marker, and so forth. The difference is that there is a special Noun Marker that can mark any noun regardless of its argumentative role in the sentence to emphasize or focus on that noun. This Noun Marker is commonly called the Direct Marker, or the Topic Marker. The Direct Marker strips the noun of its otherwise-evident/obvious argumentative role in the sentence.

So, how do people know what argumentative role the noun has if its being topicalized?
--> Through the verb.

In Austronesian Alignment, the verb "conjugates" according to what the argumentative role the topicalized noun is in. The verb commonly comes first in the sentence.


In Cebuano/Bisaya: the Topic Marker is Ang, the Agent/Subject Marker is Sa, the Oblique Indefinite Marker (For any noun that is neither the Agent nor the Topic. It could be the instrument or the indirect object or the direct object, etc.) is Og, and the Oblique Definite Marker is Sa.
Wait, but isn't Sa also the Agent/Subject Marker?
Yes... BUT the verb, the context, AND/OR the common syntax will all help distinguish the two apart!

Cebuano/Bisaya is commonly Verb-Subject-Oblique. The topic can be anywhere after the verb (usually, ofc).

Before we get started, some Cebuano/Bisaya Vocabulary:
(Pronounced Phonetically As It's Spelled! :) )
To Eat = Kaon
(there is a glottal stop between a and o!)
Dog = Iro - playing the role of agent/subject
Chicken = Manok - playing the role of patient
Mouth = Baba - playing the role of insturment

So, now, here is our example:
"The dog will eat the chicken via mouth."

1) Magkaon ang iro sa manok og baba.
2) Kan-on sa iro ang manok og baba.
3) Ikaon sa iro sa manok ang baba.

All three sentences mean the same thing, but they each give off different nuances depending on which noun is being focused on / topicalized. We know what the argumentative role of the topicalized noun is because the verb, which comes first, is conjugated with affixes specific for each respective argumentative role.

The Mag prefix is used for when the topic is also the agent/subject.
The on suffix is used for when the topic is the patient.
The I prefix is used for when the topic is the instrument.
(To make it more complicated, these affixes sometimes overlap with other argumentative roles in Cebuano, but for now, just focus on these three usages.)
Theoretically, as well, in Sentence 3, the chicken could be eating the dog, BUT we know who the subject is because of the common word order (VSO)! If you're too scared of ambiguity, you can always just switch manok's sa with og, it just won't be definite anymore; which shouldn't really matter either as it is oblique and not the topic of the sentence anyway. It's just extra information. In Sentence 2, Kan-on is not a typo. In Cebuano, Kaonon gradually became Kan-on (the hyphen being a glottal stop) throughout history.

Noun markers are NOT required in Austronesian Alignment. There could be case inflections or even just implications through Strict Syntactical Sentence Structure (like in English). All that matters is that the verb "conjugates" accordingly to which noun is supposed to be topicalized.
Also, not all languages in Austronesian Alignment have to be Verb-Initial / Verb-First. Sometimes it's Topic-Initial / Topic-First and then Verb, and THEN Oblique nouns: like in Tondano.
So theoretically, the sentence could have been "Iro magkaon manok baba." where the first noun is the topic, the verb says what argumentative role the topic is and what action is occurring, THEN the second noun HAS TO BE the object, then the last being the instrument (TVSOI); all if Cebuano had had a Strict Syntactical Structure like Tondano. (But it doesn't, so don't use this as Cebuano as it just sounds like random nouns and with some verb floating around.)


Austronesian Alignment is unique in this way. If you are interested in learning more about Austronesian Alignment; how it has to do with Alignments at all; how it is both and neither Nominative and/nor Ergative; and which languages are included in it; etc.; click here.

And there you have it! I hope it made sense! If you have any more questions, please feel free to comment down below! The reason why I made this is because I saw no YouTube videos done about it, and there are very few, discreet articles/pages online for it. I wanted the language community and Philippine-Language learners to be more familiar with it because it's actually quite simple and significant for many of Austronesian Languages' grammars (including Malagasy)!

Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed it!

5 months ago

11 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/ArpsTnd
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Nice topic, but I could not wrap my head around "ergative", "oblique", "argumentative" thingys in Cebuano. Could you speak Filipino or Central Tagbanwa? Those two are Austronesian languages too, if so, could you provide some examples in those languages? Hehehehe, i'm sorry. :((((( (I speak some Austronesian languages but I do not know which is which)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElijahCFGolpe
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That's totally fine! I only know a little Filipino, but no Central Tagbanwa. I wasn't even able to find some examples online, sorry about that! X/ If you want examples for Tagalog/Filipino, the link in my original post above actually has examples for it. You will see the same thing in where the verb "conjugates" each time the topic marker "ang" marks a different noun.

Now, I'll explain the others. :))

First, I want to talk about the "ergative," "oblique," and "argumentative thingys. So, in English grammar, each noun in a sentence is known as an argument, which basically just means that it has some sort of role in the sentence.

In the sentence "The dog will eat the chicken via mouth.," there are three "arguments": The dog, the chicken, and the mouth. The dog is agent/actor/subject (the noun that does the action). The chicken is the patient/object (the noun that will be eaten). Then, the mouth is the instrument/tool (the noun used to carry out the action, the tool used to help the dog eat the chicken). The agent, subject, patient, instrument, etc. stuff are all "argumentative roles" that each noun becomes a part of. In many languages that have Austronesian Alignment, each argumentative role has a corresponding "marker" for it (like sa and og in my original post). However, there is also a "Topic" marker: a marker that puts focus on a certain noun. By doing so however, we get rid of its argumentative role. So to fix this, to know what argumentative role the topicalized noun has, we look to the verb to tell us.

Now, Ergativity is a whole other alignment. Simply put, Nominative-Accusative focuses on who does the action, while Ergative-Absolutive likes to focus on who receives the action.

In English (a Nominative-Accusative language), we would say:
He sleeps.
He loves him.
In both sentences, we use He as He is doing the action in both sentences.
In Ergative-Absolutive languages, these sentences would look like this:
Him sleeps.
He loves him.
In the first sentence, they would use Him instead of He because not only is he doing the action, but he is also receiving the action. (Because you not only do the action of sleeping, but you also are receiving the action of sleeping.) In French and Spanish (neither are Ergative-Absolutive, they are both Nominative-Accusative, but hear me out), both have Reflexive Pronouns & Verbs. In "Il se douche" or "Se ducho" it is literally translated as: "He showers himself." In an Ergative-Absolutive language, it would be like "Him showers." (Or "Himself showers." if that helps you understand better.) No language is fully Ergative however, and this phenomenon is called Split Ergativity. Split Ergativity is an umbrella term for a list of other terms that describe the kinds of ways Ergative Languages aren't fully ergative. Why isn't there a fully ergative language? I don't know. I think there are complex limits to each ergative language. If you still don't understand, it's better to watch videos on it (I would prefer watching David Peterson's video for it [he created Dothraki and High Valyrian] on YouTube).

Now Oblique, in my sense, just means any noun/argument that is neither the topicalized noun nor the agent/actor/doer/subject. So in the FIRST example sentence of my original post, the dog is both the topic and the agent/subject/actor/doer. While, the chicken and the mouth are both neither the topic nor the agent/subject/actor/doer, so they were both marked with the Oblique Markers. In Cebuano, sa is the marker for both oblique and subject arguments/noun. We know that the chicken is NOT the subject because of the verb's conjugation mag prefix telling us that the topicalized noun is also the subject. So any noun marked with sa in that sentence has to be in the Oblique. The Oblique can be any argument BUT the agent/subject/doer/actor. In this case, sa was with the direct object and og was with the instrument.

I think that should be sufficient for this comment. Thank you for reading my original post. I hope you understand it better now. :) If not, you are welcome to ask more questions. :)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ArpsTnd
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Yay! Thanks! Sorry for the abala hahahaha, never knew that I was doing it innocently all along.

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElijahCFGolpe
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Hahaha, it's totally fine! I'm glad to share this info with everyone. :)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/heybo2022

i like your bio ElijahCFGolpe

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElijahCFGolpe
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Hahaha thank you

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/heybo2022

ur welcome,i want to be on youtube too...lol

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElijahCFGolpe
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Someday, hopefully, we shall (^~^')

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/heybo2022

i hope

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wyqtor
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Georgian is another language that uses both alignments.

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElijahCFGolpe
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Wow, that's really cool! I never knew that about the Georgian language! I love how the Georgian Script looks, that's probably all I know about the Georgian language hahaha
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the post! Thank you for sharing that about the Georgian Language!

5 months ago
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