The Pavia Diachronic Emergence of Alignment (DEmA) database is a comprehensive open access database on the emergence of alignment patterns cross-linguistically.

Historical research has mostly focused on:

(i) shift from one overall alignment system to the other (e.g. nominative > ergative)

(ii) etymological sources of case marking (e.g. demonstrative > ergative).

Less attention has been paid to the features of source constructions and to the type of language change mechanisms involved in the rise of individual alignment patterns. Progress in grammaticalization studies and historical linguistics have brought to light an increasing body of evidence that challenges a number of traditional assumptions about the general motivations underlying alignment patterns and opens the way for several new research questions (Harris & Campbell 1995; Gildea 1998; Mithun 2005; Creissels 2008; Cristofaro 2012, 2013, 2014, among others):.

  • What are the possible source constructions of different alignment patterns?
  • Which mechanisms of language change may lead to the emergence of individual patterns?
  • To what extent are particular patterns motivated by the properties of specific source constructions, rather than general semantic or pragmatic principles pertaining to those patterns in themselves?
  • To what extent does the distribution of individual patterns across different contexts (alignment splits) follow from such principles, and to what extent is it related to the properties of the source construction?
  • Can specific alignment patterns be related to a single underlying principle, or is each pattern an epiphenomenal result of several distinct diachronic processes, each motivated by a different principle?

The goal of DEmA is to supply easily accessible empirical data to investigate these aspects of the emergence of alignment patterns. By virtue of its unique design, DEmA offers a research engine to explore in a systematic way the role of all the different components at play in the emergence of new alighment patterns.

Main Contributors

Project leader

Prof. Sonia Cristofaro

Project assistants

Dr. Vittorio Ganfi

Project assistants

Dr. Guglielmo Inglese

Technical realization

Dr. Alessio Palmero Aprosio

NLP specialist, data manager and system administrator. Works on LEMLAT in the framework of the ERC project LiLa.

Credits & Contacts

The Pavia Diachronic Emergence of Alignment (DEmA) project has been carried out at the Department of Humanities of the University of Pavia, Section of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics.

Sonia Cristofaro

Guglielmo Inglese


  • Creissels, Denis. 2008. Direct and indirect explanations of typological regularities: the case of alignment variations. Folia Linguistica 42, 1–38.
  • Cristofaro, Sonia. 2012. Cognitive explanations, distributional evidence, and diachrony. Studies in Language 36, 645–70.
  • Cristofaro, Sonia. 2013. The referential hierarchy: Reviewing the evidence in diachronic perspective. In Dik Bakker & Martin Haspelmath (eds), Languages across Boundaries: Studies in the Memory of Anna Siewierska, 69–93. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Cristofaro, Sonia. 2014. Competing motivations and diachrony: what evidence for what motivations? In Brian MacWhinney, Andrej Malchukov & Edith Moravcsik (eds.), Competing motivations in grammar and usage, 282–98. Oxford: OUP.
  • Gildea, Spike. 1998. On reconstructing grammar: Comparative Cariban morphosyntax. Oxford: OUP.
  • Harris, Alice C. & Lyle Campbell. 1995. Historical syntax in cross-linguistic perspective. Cambridge: CUP.