Faculty: Arts
Department: Igbo, African & Chinese Studies


Chinweude, N. U.
Mbah, B. M.


Syntactically, verbs are classified according to the number of arguments they subcategorise. Accordingly, we have intransitive verbs (which select one argument), mono transitive verbs (which select two arguments) and ditransitive verbs (which select three arguments). It has also been recognised that some verbs behave differently from the above categorisation. For example, some verbs could appear in two distinct structures; in one structure, they select one argument whereas in another structure, they select two arguments without any morphological modification (i.e. they can be used transitively and intransitively). These sets of verbs are called ergative verbs. Igbo is not a prototypical ergative language but it has ergative forms. In the past, linguists have been more interested in the study of transitivity of Igbo verbs. Little or no attention is paid to the study of ergativity with regard to the Igbo language. The observation that not much has been written on the semantic perspective of ergative verbs necessitates this study. The study traces the origin and characteristics of ergative constructions. It establishes the nature and realisation of ergativity in Igbo. The study among other things identifies and analyses the areas of interface of syntax and semantics in the Igbo ergative structure. The work adopts the frameworks of transformational grammar and theta theory in analysing the data used in this study. Some of the ergative verbs identified in this study include: simple verbs- kx (beat), kpù (sink) and compound verbs- gbàji (break), dqka (tear). From the analyses, it is revealed that ergativity originally applied to languages like Basque in which the complement of a transitive verb and subject of an intransitive verb were assigned the same morphological case; by extension, it has come to be used to denote verbs that can have their objects as their subjects without changing their meanings; ergativity in Igbo is based syntactically on the argument structure and the observed systematic correspondence between intransitive subjects and transitive objects. An ergative transitive structure has two arguments and two thematic roles, thus NP1, NP2 as its arguments and Agent, Theme as theta roles. In contrast, the ergative intransitive structure has only one argument structure as well as only one theta role thus NP1 as argument and Theme as thematic role. The study concludes that argument structure and thematic role are the areas of interface in the Igbo ergative structure. The Igbo verbs that can be ergativised are precisely those dynamic verbs in which the change can come about independently in the sense that it can occur without an external agent.