Referential hierarchies and alignment : An overview

A referential hierarchy is a scalar representation of types of referents or referring expressions that are ranked according to their deictic, semantic, and/or dis- course-pragmatic properties. 1 The first representation of this kind was Silverstein ’ s (1976: 113) “ hierarchy of inherent lexical content ” , 2 which predicts tendencies of the distribution of accusative vs. ergative alignment patterns in languages with ergative traits. Silverstein ’ s suggestion was that entities high in the hierarchy are more prototypical agents and entities low in the hierarchy are more prototypical patients. The concept of referential hierarchies soon became very popular, both as a tool for explaining morphosyntactic patterns and as an object of research itself (see Comrie 1981 and DeLancey 1981 for early examples; see Bornkessel-Schlesewsky et al. 2015 for a selection of recent studies). 3 One version of Silverstein ’ s referential hierarchy is given in (1) (from Dixon 1979: 85).


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