Which MATter matters in PATtern borrowing? The direction of case syncretisms


This study addresses the question of which case-marker (i.e. MATter) is privileged in case realignment (i.e. PATtern borrowing) by examining two mixed varieties in northern Australia, which have borrowed either a locative or allative case marker, but not both, from a traditional Australian language. In Gurindji Kriol, the Gurindji locative case suffix has been borrowed and generalised to functions marked by the allative in Gurindji, whereas in Wumpurrarni English, realignment has occurred in the opposite direction, with the borrowed Warumungu allative suffix spreading to functions marked by the locative in Warumungu. In both cases, the development of a single marker of spatial relations has most likely occurred as the result of contact with Kriol, which has one preposition langa that marks all spatial relations, whether static or movement-orientated. The question of why the locative has been extended in one situation, and the allative in another is addressed in this paper.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Warumungu was classified as its own group within Pama-Nyungan (O’Grady et al. 1966) on the basis of lexical cognates, a classification assumed more recently by McConvell and Laughren (2004), who use inflectional morphology in their reconstruction of the Ngumpin-Yapa subgroup. Warumungu shows influence from Ngumpin-Yapa languages and from Arandic languages, and its exact genetic relationship is still to be determined.

  2. 2.

    All examples are referenced using the language (WE - Wumpurrarni English; GK – Gurindji Kriol; W – Warumungu; G – Gurindji). All previously unpublished examples also include (i) speaker ID (using actual speaker initials to ensure identifiability with Warumungu or Gurindji people, but anonymity with outsiders); (ii) recording number; and (iii) start time in recording.

  3. 3.

    Erosion is seen in Warumungu: the ergative/locative merger occurred historically due to vowel assimilation to the preceding vowel (McConvell and Simpson 2012, p. 169) (compare proto Pama-Nyungan ergative *-ngku, *-lu (ergative), and *-ngka, *-la (locative)). This preceded the merger of the ergative/locative and allative, as described in Sect. 3.

  4. 4.

    The form of the final vowel of the suffix is determined by the final vowel of the stem to which it attaches. If the stem ends in a final consonant, other allomorphs are possible, and there are some irregular allomorphs with stem changes as well.

  5. 5.

    Animate goals are marked by the dative case marker.



first person


second person


third person

abl :


abs :


all :


atel :


com :


cont :


dat :


det :


detran :


dis :

discourse marker

du :


dpm :

distal patient marker

erg :


ex :


f :


fut :


int :


loc :


m :


nmlz :


nom :


o :


pauc :


pl :


poss :


prep :


prog :


prs :


pst :


qtag :

tag question

redup :


rel :


s :


seq :


sg :


top :


tr :


pl :



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Correspondence to Felicity Meakins.

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This paper was presented at the Ngumpin-Yapa workshop in Brisbane (10–11 August 2017) and the Matter Borrowing vs Pattern Borrowing in Morphology workshop at the Societas Linguistica Europaea conference in Zürich (10–13 September 2017). We are grateful for feedback from Matthew Baerman, Francesco Gardani, Mary Laughren, David Nash and Eva Schultze-Berndt. The work was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (Project ID: CE140100041).

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Meakins, F., Disbray, S. & Simpson, J. Which MATter matters in PATtern borrowing? The direction of case syncretisms. Morphology (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11525-020-09357-3

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  • Case syncretism
  • Language contact
  • Australian languages