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Trebor Jung wrote at 2004-01-12 02:54:01 (+0100)
 > Etak wrote:
 >
 > > Could someone please explain the difference between
 > > nominative/accusative languages and ergative/ablative ones.  (I
 > > think I've got the names right.  I'm not even sure about that...)
 >
 > Actually, that's ergative/absolutive.
 >
 > Nominative-accusative languages are where you have a sentence where
 > the subjects of in- and transitive sentences are marked with the
 > one case (nominative) and the direct object of transitive sentences
 > is marked with another case (accusative). Ergative-absolutive
 > languages are where the subjects of intransitive sentences and the
 > direct objects of transitive sentences are marked with one case
 > (ergative), and the subjects of transitive sentences are marked
 > with another case (absolutive).
 >

Yes, this is essentially correct.  But it isn't necessarily a matter
of case as such - any feature which treats one of the arguments of a
transitive verb the same as the single argument of an intransitive
verb can be said to be making a nom/acc or erg/abs distinction.  The
most common example other than case marking is verbal agreement.
I.e., if the intransitive verb is inflected for the number, person
etc. of its subject, the transitive verb may show such agreement with
either the more agent-like (nom/acc) or the more patient-like
(erg/abs) of its arguments.  (To speak of the "subject" and "direct
object" of a transitive verb pretty much presupposes an accusative
system.)

What's more, different structures in the same language may pattern
differently - you could have nom/acc agreement and erg/abs case
marking.  (Not likely to be the other way round, though - there's a
heirarchy in these features that I don't have time to get into right
now.)