Isoba/Morphosyntactic Alignment

Austronesian Alignment


Isoba is a fluid-S active-stative language that uses Austronesian alignment. Austronesian focus indicates a subject in the direct case (DIR) and is denoted in Isoba by inflecting the root morpheme of a selected argument of a verb by shifting stress to the syllable after the syllable stressed in the uninflected version of that morpheme if possible and assigning a rising tone to this newly-stressed syllable.

Consider “desbi,” which means “day” and has high tone stress on the first syllable. When “desbi” is marked for the direct case, it becomes “desbí.”

Consider the monosyllabic word for “cat,” “giu,” which has high tone stress. When “giu” is marked for the direct case, it becomes “giú” because shifting stress forward by one syllable is not possible.

In the Austronesian system, on which Isoban alignment is based, the subject of the sentence is identified by the voice affix on the verb as having one of the semantic roles that exist in the language. Other arguments are marked with their normal noun phrase case inflections. The semantic roles in Isoba and their corresponding verb and noun phrase inflections are listed in the table below.

Key: V = verb; N = noun

Semantic Role Voice Name Case Name Verb Inflection (Voice Affixes) Normal Case Inflection
Agent Actor (AT) Ergative (ERG) none none
Patient Patient (PT) Accusative (ACC) ie-V Falling tone stress, shifted forward one syllable if possible
Location Locative (LT) Locative (LOC) so-V-xi N-n1
Instrument Instrument (IT) Instrumental (INS) mix-V N-fhigh
Benefactee or Reason Benefactive (BT) Dative (DAT) ge-V N-tagh
1.^ See the Case page for details on locative case formation.

Active Voice


Unlike Austronesian languages, Isoba does not require every sentence to have a subject; this is in fact the default. Verbs in such sentences are said to be in the active voice (ACT). Since there is no verb inflection for the actor voice, the only difference between sentences in these two voices is the inflection on the agent. In the actor voice, the agent is inflected for the direct case, while in the active voice, the agent lacks inflection, indicating the ergative case. Semantically, the sentence in the actor voice draws more attention to the agent’s volition or intention.

Fluid-S Active-Stative Alignment


In sentences where the main verb is intransitive, the fluid-S active-stative feature of Isoban alignment allows any subject to take the accusative case, though using the ergative or the direct case is also allowed. Using the accusative case conveys a sense of reduced volition.


Vak giu=∅ koy.
Eat.3.ACT cat.SG=ERG meat.SG.ACC
The cat eats meat.

This sentence uses the default active voice and ergative case.

Vak giú koy.
Eat.3.AT cat.SG.DIR meat.SG.ACC
The cat eats meat (by its own will).

Use of the direct case on the agent retroactively makes the verb take the active voice, emphasizing the volition of the agent.

Ie=vak giu=∅ kói.
PT=eat.3 cat.SG=ERG meat.SG.DIR
Meat is eaten by the cat.

Using the patient voice is Isoba’s equivalent of the passive construction.

Vak giu=∅ koy daghde=fhluen.
Eat.3.ACT cat.SG=ERG meat.SG.ACC house.SG=inside.SG.LOC
The cat eats meat inside the house.

This is a regular active voice construction.

So=vak=xi giu=∅ koy daghde=fhlué.
LT=Eat.3=LT cat.SG=ERG meat.SG.ACC house.SG=inside.SG.DIR
The house interior is eaten meat at by the cat.

Using the locative voice directs focus to the place of action. The Isoba locative can also denote time or manner. See the Nouns section for details.

Vak giu=∅.
Eat.3.ACT cat.SG=ERG
The cat eats.

The default active voice construction also applies to intransitive verbs.

Vak gyu.
Eat.3.ACT cat.SG.ACC
The cat eats (not by its own will).

Using the accusative case on the sole argument of an intransitive verb denotes reduced volition.

Vak giú. Eat.3.AT cat.SG.DIR “The cat eats (by its own will).” Using the actor voice highlights volition.

Ie=vak giú. PT=Eat.3 cat.SG.DIR “The cat is eaten.” The verb’s inflection should agree with the agent. Here, in the absence of an agent, the verb is inflected for 3rd person, for 3rd person is the default person when the actor is unknown.

Ie=vak=can haseu=∅ kói. PT=Eat=1PL.EXCL 1PL.EXCL=ERG meat.SG.DIR “The meat is eaten by us.” “Haseu” is usually omitted since Isoba is pro-drop. Notice that because there is an agent—”us”—the verb agrees with it.

Haseu=∅ ie=vak=can kói. 1PL.EXCL=ERG PT=Eat=1PL.EXCL meat.SG.DIR “The meat is eaten by us.” Fronting an argument emphasizes it. Word order does not have any syntactic significance, only semantic.

So=vak=xi dadde=fhlué. LT=Eat.3=LT house.SG=inside.SG.DIR “The house interior is eaten at.” This is an example of the locative voice. Of course, specifying an agent would cause the verb to be inflected for agreement with it. See the next example.

So=vaak=xi ha=∅ koyr daghde=fhlué. LT=eat.1SG=LT 1SG=ERG meat.PL.ACC house.SG=inside.SG.DIR “The house interior is eaten meats at by me.” “Ha” can be dropped.

Mix=vak pá. IT=Eat.3 mouth.PL.DIR “Mouths are eaten with.” This is an example of the instrument voice.

Ge=vak qér. BT=Eat.3 health.SG.DIR “Health is eaten for.” This is an example of the benefactice voice.