Austronesian alignment

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Austronesian alignment

Post by Linguifex » Wed 20 May 2015, 18:49

My main reference for this is Wikipedia, for the record (I don't know if this means I have to license it the same or not). If anybody who knows more about this than I do notices an error, please don't hesitate to correct me.

I think the main thing about Austronesian alignment is that you can think about it as basically the verb sharing the work of case-marking. In other sorts of languages, case-marking or word order tends to tell you the jobs that nouns fulfill in the sentence. In Austronesian alignment, though, the job of the word in focus is marked on the verb (the convention that the article uses is to call these "triggers"). The appropriate noun is marked in the direct case; how other nouns are handled depends on the language. From Wikipedia there seem to be two possibilities.

Abbreviations used:
3 – third-person
A – agent
ACC – accusative
BEN – benefactive
DEF – definite
DIR – direct
ERG – ergative
IND – indirect
LOC – locative
M – masculine
P – patient
PREP – prepositional case
PST – past
SG – singular

The first is that other nouns typically end up in the indirect case. Context seems to be the thing that determines which indirect noun is which in cases of ambiguity. Tagalog seems to use this; examples from the article over at Wikipedia:

Binasa ng tao ang aklat.
b<in>asa ng tao ang aklat
<PST.P>read IND person DIR book
The book was read by a person.

Bumasa ng aklat ang tao.
b<um>asa ng aklat ang tao
<PST.A>read IND book DIR person
A person read the book.

Binilhán ng tao ng aklat ang tindahan.
b<in>il-hán ng tao ng aklat ang tindahan.
<PST.P>buy-LOC IND person IND book DIR store
The store is where the person bought the book.

Bumilí ang tao ng aklat sa tindahan.
b<um>ilí ang tao ng aklat sa tindahan
<PST.A>buy DIR person IND book at store
The person bought the book at the store.

The other is that either the corresponding triggers or (at least) the agent and patient triggers have separate case-marking that is only used when they are not in focus (i.e., when the trigger does not apply to them). The former variation is the one I've used in Çuvvaccoçim, with all four triggers having a corresponding case that is used when the referent is not in focus:

Çičeu avec hogëǧ hae ǧëǵïm.
çi-čeu avec ho-gëǧ hae Ø-ǧëǵ=ïm
PST.A-apply 3SG.M.DIR ACC.SG-paint to PREP.SG-surface=DEF
'he applied paint to the surface'

Mičeu çogëǧ aveh hae ǧëǵïm.
mi-čeu ço-gëǧ aveh hae Ø-ǧëǵ=ïm
PST.P-apply DIR.SG-paint 3SG.M.ERG to PREP.SG-surface=DEF
'he applied paint to the surface'

Ģičeu ɂuǧëǵ aveh hogëǧïm.
ģi-čeu ɂu-ǧëǵ aveh ho-gëǧ=ïm
PST.LOC-apply DIR.SG-surface 3SG.M.ERG ACC-paint=DEF
'he applied paint to the surface'

Ćiččeu ɂuǧëǵ aveh hogëǧïm.
ći:-čeu ɂu-ǧëǵ aveh ho-gëǧ=ïm
PST.BEN-apply DIR.SG-surface 3SG.M.ERG ACC-paint=DEF
'he applied paint to the surface'

Going by the article, the typical triggers present seem to be agent, patient, and possibly locative and benefactive. You probably could have other triggers if you wanted to, for example a dative.

It may be useful to think of it like a game of paintball: The verb selects a color of paint (trigger) and fires at a noun (direct); other nouns in the sentence get splattered as a result (indirect).
Last edited by Linguifex on Fri 22 May 2015, 03:24, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Xing » Wed 20 May 2015, 20:12

According to the Wikipedia entry, the 'passive' or patient-trigger is the default in Austronesian language. Does anybody know the reasons for this analysis? I used to think that Austronesian alignment was different from a 'classical' voice alteration system in that neither the active/agent trigger nor the passive/patient trigger was more 'basic' or 'unmarked' than the other - but apparently this is not the case. It's still different from a voice system in that a change of trigger does not detransitivise the clause or otherwise change its valency - but what what are the arguments for regarding the patient trigger (or 'passive' form of the clause) as 'default'? Is it because it is the most frequent? Because it is used in most kinds of situation? Are 'active' sentences - with 'agent' triggers pragmatically marked in some way?
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Linguifex » Wed 20 May 2015, 21:01

It may be as simple as how some more conventional languages are ergative-absolutive and others nominative-accusative—there might be something similar going on with languages using this alignment.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by kanejam » Fri 22 May 2015, 01:54

Linguifex wrote:B<in>il-hán ng tao nang aklat ang tindahan.
<PST.P>buy-LOC IND person IND book DIR store
The store is where the person bought the book
So just from looking at Wikipedia, I get the feeling that in the above, the verb has patient-alignment with an applicative that raises store from oblique to patient. I think analysing it as a 'locative alignment' leads to the so called 'conlang trigger system' which is unattested in natlangs, although as David Peterson says:
David wrote:Just because the conlang trigger system doesn’t exist in the real world doesn’t mean it’s a bad – or even necessarily unrealistic – system. It simply means that it’s unattested.
Actual Austronesian alignment seems to hinge on the fact that it has two basic transitive sentence types - agent and patient - where the distinction is made mainly on topicalisation (possibly aspect as well which opens some interesting avenues).

I can't talk about Tagalog, but it still has traces in Polynesian. Tongan, Niuean and Samoan are ergative, while Māori, Hawaiian and Tahitian are accusative. Even then, in Māori, which is normally analysed as accusative, there are strong hints of ergative alignment in some places. Consider the following:

I hoko te tane i te pūru.
PST buy DEF man OBJ DEF bull
The man bought the bull.

I hoko-na te pūru e te tane.
PST buy-PASS DEF bull AGT DEF man
The bull was bought by the man.

While the passive is overtly derived from the active, it is used more commonly than the active (at least in historical prose - I'm sure English's influence has diminished that) which has led at least a few people to say that Māori is ergative and the active is really an antipassive. There are several constructions where the sentence has passive syntax but the verb isn't marked for the passive:

Me hoko te pūru e te tane.
The bull should be bought by the man.

There are also 'neuter' verbs that have no passive but are basically passive semantically (patient in nominative):

I pakaru te wini i a Hēmi.
PST be.broken DEF window OBJ ART Hemi
Hemi broke the window/the window was broken by Hemi.

Lastly, the imperative of transitive verbs are marked for the passive:

Hoko-na!
buy-PASS
Buy!

There are a few other constructions that suggest ergative traces; if you want to read more I really recommend Ray Harlow's Maori - A Linguistic Introduction. Really great book, not too dense but covers all the major and interesting things about the language.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by kilenc » Sat 23 May 2015, 02:45

i have a few questions about the alignment, if anybody can answer 'em.

first: if the sentence is intransitive, how are the triggers treated? for instance, between these options for "the man eats"

Code: Select all

eat-P DIR man

eat-A DIR man

eat man
id imagine this has something to do with languages being classified as nom-acc, erg-abs, etc, but do austronenian langs tend towards one of these over the others (or maybe even something i didnt consider)?

second: across languages, how common is the indirect marking vs. case marking (like in linguifex's conlang)? do languages that mark non-topic argument as indirect clarify arguments through stuff like adpositions, adjectives, or articles?

third: i was reading about head-marking vs. dependent-marking on WALS. would languages that use the indirect-direct version of austronesian be classified as head or dependent marking? im leaning towards head cus the actual case is marked on the verb and not the NP, but im not sure.
eventually ill work out a good conlang :)
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Xing » Sat 23 May 2015, 09:06

Linguifex wrote:It may be as simple as how some more conventional languages are ergative-absolutive and others nominative-accusative—there might be something similar going on with languages using this alignment.
I wonder if it's proper to call 'Austronesian alignment' a kind of morphosyntactical alignment at all – from what I've read, it seems it's basically a kind of voice alteration system, an that at least most of the languages using it are basically ergative (with some possibly being split ergative or even accusative). What do you think?
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Salmoneus » Sat 23 May 2015, 15:29

kanejam wrote: So just from looking at Wikipedia, I get the feeling that in the above, the verb has patient-alignment with an applicative that raises store from oblique to patient.
Why do you think that? The defining features of Phillipine alignment are the the 'voices' are symmetrical: they have the same valency, and none are derived from the others. It is not the case a verb is put in the passive and then given an applicative: all the voices have their own affixes.
It is true that the Tagalog 'locative' resembles the 'passive' morphologically, but then the 'benefactive' more closely resembles the 'active'; and, as said, they have their own affixes. The only thing that might suggest that the benefactive and locative were secondary 'applicative' voices, rather than primary, is that non-topic arguments corresponding to these take distinct prepositions, whereas the prepositions marking non-topic agents and patients happen to be the same. However, iirc this is not the case in some other Phillipine languages, and can be dismissed as a historical coincidence rather than a fundamental classificatory issue.

I think analysing it as a 'locative alignment' leads to the so called 'conlang trigger system' which is unattested in natlangs, although as David Peterson says:
David wrote:Just because the conlang trigger system doesn’t exist in the real world doesn’t mean it’s a bad – or even necessarily unrealistic – system. It simply means that it’s unattested.
Actual Austronesian alignment seems to hinge on the fact that it has two basic transitive sentence types - agent and patient - where the distinction is made mainly on topicalisation (possibly aspect as well which opens some interesting avenues).
I wish someone would explain just what is meant by this difference. They seem to want phillipine languages to be weird, ineffable things that cannot be described by any human approximation. What, in your opinion, are the key differences between a phillipine system and a 'conlang trigger' system?

Because I looked at that post by Peterson that everybody quotes, and the striking thing about it is that he doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. "So, the "trigger" actually is the syntactic subject," he says, but this is not generally considered to be true - the actor-participant actually retains many of the characteristics that mark the 'subject' in other languages, so at best we can speak of the subject-role being divided, not granted to the 'trigger'. "And these languages do have passive morphology--extensive passive morphology", he says, but this is not generally considered to be true - the patient-trigger constructions are not actually "passives" in the normal sense of the word, in that they are a) morphologically not derived from the "active", b) do not change the valency of the verb, and c) are in most languages more common than the "active" voice. Similarly, there is no trace here of anything that would normally be called an "applicative". And he does not make plain why, if he insists on using this strange terminology for phillipine languages, the same terminology could not equally be used for "conlang trigger" languages.
He describes "conlang trigger" languages by saying: "In other words, a language with a whole bunch of cases that are simply marked on the verb, and in order to use one of these cases, the case must be used with the subject of the verb." - but, if we grant his confusion that the 'trigger' is fully the subject (and the subjectness of the trigger/topic/whatever does vary from language to language), this is exactly what phillipine languages do (although he is right if he is merely pointing out that real languages don't have as many different voices as some conlangs do - but then, if our only reference for cases was indo-european, we'd call uralic or caucasian languages unrealistic...). Indeed, apparently Ayeri, the prototypical 'conlang trigger' language actually less fully commits to the subjecthood of the topic than Tagalog does.

So what exactly does Peterson mean? Everyone repeats him, often with embarrassed footnotes saying "I don't understand the difference but I'm sure he must be right", but what exactly is he trying to get at?
Lastly, the imperative of transitive verbs are marked for the passive:

Hoko-na!
buy-PASS
Buy!
It may be worth pointing out that austronesian languages often flirt with precategoriality. The 'passive voice' and 'active voice' (and more, in some languages) aren't just voice-markers, they're also verb-markers in general, and sometimes derivation-markers. It may be that in some languages that have drifted toward a more conventional N/A-alignment, dropping explicit active voice marking, the passive voice marker may be retained in some places not as a marker of voice at all, but just as the default "I'm a verb!" marker.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Salmoneus » Sat 23 May 2015, 15:55

Xing wrote:
Linguifex wrote:It may be as simple as how some more conventional languages are ergative-absolutive and others nominative-accusative—there might be something similar going on with languages using this alignment.
I wonder if it's proper to call 'Austronesian alignment' a kind of morphosyntactical alignment at all – from what I've read, it seems it's basically a kind of voice alteration system, an that at least most of the languages using it are basically ergative (with some possibly being split ergative or even accusative). What do you think?
Nominative Alignment: the argument of the intransitive is in the same case as the agent of the transitive
Ergative Alignment: the argument of the intransitive is in the same case as the patient of the transitive
Fluid/Split-S Alignment: the argument of the intransitive is not always marked the same way: sometimes it matches the agent and sometimes it matches the patient
"Direct" or "Austronesian" Alignment: the argument of the intransitive is always marked the same way; but sometimes it matches the agent and sometimes it matches the patient, because the agent and patient are not always marked the same way

It's a pretty clear alignment in this sense. "Austronesian alignment" is sometimes used more specifically, however, to refer to philippine-type languages, where in addition to symmetrical agent-centred and patient-centred voices there are other, 'oblique' voices also.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Xing » Sat 23 May 2015, 17:09

Salmoneus wrote: It's a pretty clear alignment in this sense. "Austronesian alignment" is sometimes used more specifically, however, to refer to philippine-type languages, where in addition to symmetrical agent-centred and patient-centred voices there are other, 'oblique' voices also.
From what I have read, authors seem to disagree about the nature of of 'Austronesian alignment' when it comes to morphosyntactical alignment. Possibly it's a matter of definition – that some would only look at what they regard as 'pragmatically neutral' transitive sentences when deciding the morphosyntactical alignment type. To the extent the 'voices' of this type of languages are equal, one could claim that they can behave either as accusative or ergative languages, depending on the 'voice' used.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Salmoneus » Sat 23 May 2015, 17:23

What would be gained by claiming that?
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Xing » Sat 23 May 2015, 17:55

I recently read an article analysing Tagalog as basically an ergative language, with the 'active trigger' as an intransitive/antipassive marker. (I think it claimed that the active or 'antipassive' verbs could not take applicative affixes or do various kinds of stuff the passive verbs could... but yeah, I'm really not an expert on this kind of languages...)

I don't, however, see any conceptual reason why you could't have a system where different transitive clauses behaved differently in how they mark there arguments – whether in form of a Tagalog-like 'voice' or trigger system, or that it was lexicalised for each (transitive) verb how the core arguments were marked.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by kanejam » Sun 24 May 2015, 01:11

Salmoneus wrote:So what exactly does Peterson mean? Everyone repeats him, often with embarrassed footnotes saying "I don't understand the difference but I'm sure he must be right", but what exactly is he trying to get at?
Well, my understanding was that the Austronesian system is simply about having two equal transitive sentence types, which as I said I gathered from Wikipedia, and that the 'conlang trigger' was where just about any argument, core or non-core, could be the trigger. If that's wrong and Tagalog et al. actually do the latter then sure, talking about a difference becomes meaningless. I have no idea what Tagalog actually does so I can't comment any more than that.
kilenc wrote:i have a few questions about the alignment, if anybody can answer 'em.

first: if the sentence is intransitive, how are the triggers treated? for instance, between these options for "the man eats"

Code: Select all

eat-P DIR man

eat-A DIR man

eat man
id imagine this has something to do with languages being classified as nom-acc, erg-abs, etc, but do austronenian langs tend towards one of these over the others (or maybe even something i didnt consider)?
As I understood it, the triggers only make sense for transitive sentences, although if as Sal says non-core arguments can be 'triggers' then you would expect to be able to have them in intransitive sentences as well. I still wouldn't expect patient or agent triggers though - so 'eat DIR man' would be my answer.
kilenc wrote:second: across languages, how common is the indirect marking vs. case marking (like in linguifex's conlang)? do languages that mark non-topic argument as indirect clarify arguments through stuff like adpositions, adjectives, or articles?

third: i was reading about head-marking vs. dependent-marking on WALS. would languages that use the indirect-direct version of austronesian be classified as head or dependent marking? im leaning towards head cus the actual case is marked on the verb and not the NP, but im not sure.
See here. WALS has 47.5% with case affixes, 0.6% with non-concatenative case and 14.3% with adpositional clitics, with the caveat that prepositional case clitics are probably under-represented. It would still be dependent marking - what the verb is marking isn't case (it always selects direct as its subject) but the thematic (ie semantic) role of the subject.

Edit: they also say that langs with neither case affixes or clitics are under-represented, and that intial consonant mutation such as Linguifex's counts as case prefixes.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Salmoneus » Sun 24 May 2015, 19:12

kanejam wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:So what exactly does Peterson mean? Everyone repeats him, often with embarrassed footnotes saying "I don't understand the difference but I'm sure he must be right", but what exactly is he trying to get at?
Well, my understanding was that the Austronesian system is simply about having two equal transitive sentence types, which as I said I gathered from Wikipedia, and that the 'conlang trigger' was where just about any argument, core or non-core, could be the trigger. If that's wrong and Tagalog et al. actually do the latter then sure, talking about a difference becomes meaningless. I have no idea what Tagalog actually does so I can't comment any more than that.
Yes, Philippine languages have "triggers" ("topic", "focus", "subject", whatever) that can be non-core arguments. However, since the role is marked morphologically on the verb, they cannot be just anything. Tagalog has actor, patient, beneficiary and location 'topics'; some languages have instruments as well (or in place of one of the previous?)
But again, that makes the line of argument, in my view, resemble "'conlang case systems' don't really exist in reality, because look, German only has four cases and your conlang has sixteen, and that's just not how cases work!"
kilenc wrote: As I understood it, the triggers only make sense for transitive sentences, although if as Sal says non-core arguments can be 'triggers' then you would expect to be able to have them in intransitive sentences as well. I still wouldn't expect patient or agent triggers though - so 'eat DIR man' would be my answer.
At least some Philippine languages apparently have a sort of 'active' system - patient-trigger is default, but actor-trigger can be used as well, with the difference connected to intention, telicity, aspect, etc. It's worth pointing out that many languages have 'triggers' that don't just point out the role of the topic, but that also express aspect.
Typically, conservative Austronesian languages need the trigger on the verb, because that's all that makes it a verb, and if you dropped the trigger you'd have a noun. However, this isn't true in all languages, of course.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Sumelic » Sun 24 May 2015, 21:37

I haven't finished reading it, but here's what looks like a fairly extensive article by Carsten Becker about both the Tagalog "trigger" system and the system in Becker's conlang Ayeri.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by jute » Thu 27 Aug 2015, 09:58

As far as it was explained to me here, Austronesian Alignment isn't a voice-alteration system, meaning it can have a separate passive voice in addition to the patient trigger. The trigger just seems to determine the focus.
However, you can often use the patient trigger/focus to get a passive meaning across.
There's also this article on CWS which might be helpful.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Guitarplayer » Wed 17 Jan 2018, 09:35

[/lurk]
Sumelic wrote:
Sun 24 May 2015, 21:37
I haven't finished reading it, but here's what looks like a fairly extensive article by Carsten Becker about both the Tagalog "trigger" system and the system in Becker's conlang Ayeri.
For whatever it's worth, I've since reevaluated Ayeri's syntactic alignment based on newer research than I was using some 5 or 6 years ago. The blog entries on raising and control verbs both still contain a few annotation errors in my analysis of Ayeri which I intend to fix once I'm done writing the chapter on verbs in my grammar. Ayeri is a NOM/ACC language which imitates Tagalog's voice marking strategy and applies it to topicalization rather than subject selection.
jute wrote:
Thu 27 Aug 2015, 09:58
Austronesian Alignment isn't a voice-alteration system, meaning it can have a separate passive voice in addition to the patient trigger. The trigger just seems to determine the focus. However, you can often use the patient trigger/focus to get a passive meaning across.
According to the PhD thesis which I've read for said reevaluation (Kroeger 1991/1993), the NP marked by ang behaves pretty consistently like a syntactic subject and in those few constructions where it doesn't, it's supposed to be due to the actor's prominence as a logical subject. The marking on the verb thus is voice alteration in order to leverage an NP into the syntactic subject function, except that unlike passive voice, objective voice doesn't delete or demote the actor NP. Focus (essentially, what is the center of attention of the current sentence) and topic (essentially, what is the center of attention of what we're currently talking about) operate separately from this, apparently. According to Kroeger's thesis, Tagalog has a separate topic construction where the topicalized content appears before the verb (I recall reading about 'ay-inversion').

[lurk]
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Reyzadren » Wed 17 Jan 2018, 10:52

Quick summary on triggers: (afaik from natlangs and my own conlang)

* Triggers merely indicate the direction of flow in the sentence with reference to the default word order, like valves in a pipe indicating "FORWARD" or "REVERSE".
* Triggers are mainly on the verb, which can determine the "cases" of other nearby words, therefore generally verb affixes are more powerful than noun declensions.
* Additional "markings" on the "cases" themselves are not required, though they can be present if they are a feature of that language.
* Passive triggers are not more common than the others, though they can be if they are a feature of that language.
* Triggers are not focus/topic systems, though they can be if they are a feature of that language.

And lastly, don't totally believe anything that you read on wikipedia/internet, especially about the generalised conlang trigger system. While some may be confusing or contradictory, some of them are just completely wrong.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by brblues » Sat 25 Aug 2018, 21:46

Reyzadren wrote:
Wed 17 Jan 2018, 10:52
Quick summary on triggers: (afaik from natlangs and my own conlang)

* Triggers merely indicate the direction of flow in the sentence with reference to the default word order, like valves in a pipe indicating "FORWARD" or "REVERSE".
* Triggers are mainly on the verb, which can determine the "cases" of other nearby words, therefore generally verb affixes are more powerful than noun declensions.
* Additional "markings" on the "cases" themselves are not required, though they can be present if they are a feature of that language.
* Passive triggers are not more common than the others, though they can be if they are a feature of that language.
* Triggers are not focus/topic systems, though they can be if they are a feature of that language.

And lastly, don't totally believe anything that you read on wikipedia/internet, especially about the generalised conlang trigger system. While some may be confusing or contradictory, some of them are just completely wrong.
As I'm - against better knowledge - in the process of starting work on an additional conlang in parallel where I want to include austronesian alignment, I was (as I think I already asked on discord, but then had to leave before being able to await the reply :x) hoping you might have some reliable references to shared - preferably online, but if those are as bad as it sounds here, possibly also offline! Thanks in advance :)
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by Reyzadren » Sun 26 Aug 2018, 00:16

There isn't much stuff about the trigger alignment online (especially since most linguists and conlangers dismiss it) but a general rule is this: Anything that gets you to the source language itself is reliable. For example, in the first post, Wikipedia is a good source because it shows many examples of trigger mechanics from different languages, so you can draw your own conclusions without contradicting interpretations.

With regards to any webpage, get those that has many example sentences from a natlang or a comparison of many natlangs.
For offline purposes, get a language or grammar book in the source language itself, ie, start from the basics just like a local/native speaker of that language.
As for people to follow, Carsten Becker did an analysis on triggers of his conlang Ayeri. Also, Salmoneus posts lots of correct facts in this thread.

Caution: Avoid this link. It's mostly wrong and misleading.
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Re: Austronesian alignment

Post by brblues » Sun 26 Aug 2018, 09:53

Thanks! Good to hear as well that the glosses providing the examples in the wiki are a good starting point, as that was precisely where I started [:)]
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