Kove, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, has a nominative-accusative case system: the subject pronoun in both intransitive and transitive sentences is the same in form, but the object pronoun is different. In a Kove verb phrase, the verb is obligatorily prefixed by a subject pronominal form. In addition, if a verb is transitive, the direct object appears after the verb.

A pronominal suffix can function as the object of verbs and prepositions. When the direct object is a lexical noun phrase, the verb or preposition can take the suffix -ri as a plural marker. However, whether a referent is treated as singular or plural depends on the nature of the object’s individuality. For instance, a case where there are several coconuts, but all of only one kind, is considered singular. Thus, the plural marker appears only when the object has a certain kind of individuation. Furthermore, the choice of plural versus singular object marker also involves the animacy hierarchy. Only one -ri can appear per clause. If the objects of both a verb and a preposition are plural, the object with higher animacy is marked by -ri, while the object with lower animacy is not.

In addition to its function as a plural object marker, -ri can also mark a plural subject of an intransitive verb, following an ergative-like pattern. Moreover, it can also appear on an adjective when the modified noun is plural. As with transitive verbs, however, in these cases the possibility of marking plurality with -ri depends on the nature of the object’s individuality.


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