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Barðdal, Jóhanna

Barðdal, Jóhanna

NIAS Fellow

Syntactic Behavior of Non-Nominative Subjects in Latin and Ancient Greek

How plausible is it that objects in the early Indo-European languages have gradually changed into non-nominative subjects in the modern languages, as is assumed on the standard story of the existence of non-nominative subjects in the modern languages? Given the complexity of the subject concept and the host of syntactic properties associated with it, can such a process at all be found in language without involving an unlikely 180-degree change in argument structure?

Project Description

In Latin School Grammar it is assumed that the subject is in the nominative case, while modern linguistic research has shown that certain non-nominatives behave syntactically as subjects in several modern (non-)Indo-European languages, despite the case marking. The consensus in the field is that such non-nominatives were objects in the earliest stages of the Indo-European languages which gradually acquired subject properties over time. Contra this, evidence from the early Germanic languages attests to the opposite view, that these non-nominatives indeed behaved as subjects with regard to a host of syntactic properties in Gothic, Old and Early Middle English, Old Icelandic and Old Swedish. Preliminary investigations also suggest that equivalent data may be found in Latin and Ancient Greek, thus corroborating a subject analysis of non-nominatives in the earliest layers of the Indo-European languages. Taken together, the multiplicity of the evidence, stemming from several early branches, favors not only a reconstruction of grammatical relations in Proto-Indo-European, but also of non-nominative subjects.

Selected Publications

1) Barðdal, Jóhanna & Thórhallur Eythórsson. 2018. What is a Subject? The Nature and Validity of Subject Tests. Non-Canonically Case-Marked Subjects: The Reykjavík–Eyjafjallajökull Papers, ed. by Jóhanna Barðdal, Na’ama Pat-El, & Stephen Mark Carey, 257–273. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

2) Danesi, Serena, Cynthia A. Johnson & Jóhanna Barðdal. 2018. Where Does the Modality of Ancient Greek Modal Verbs Come From? The Relation between Modality and Oblique Case Marking. Journal of Greek Linguistics 18(1): 45–92.

3) Le Mair, Esther, Cynthia A. Johnson, Michael Frotscher, Thórhallur Eythórsson & Jóhanna Barðdal. 2017. Position as a Behavioral Property of Subjects: The Case of Old Irish. Indogermanische Forschungen 122: 111–142.

4) Barðdal, Jóhanna & Thórhallur Eythórsson. 2012. “Hungering and Lusting for Women and Fleshly Delicacies”: Reconstructing Grammatical Relations for Proto-Germanic. Transactions of the Philological Society 110(3): 363–393.

5) Eythórsson, Thórhallur & Jóhanna Barðdal. 2005. Oblique Subjects: A Common Germanic Inheritance. Language 81(4): 824–881.

6) Barðdal, Jóhanna & Thórhallur Eythórsson. 2003. The Change That Never Happened: The Story of Oblique Subjects. Journal of Linguistics 39(03): 439–472.

7) Barðdal, Jóhanna. 2000. Oblique Subjects in Old Scandinavian. NOWELE: North-Western Indo-European Language Evolution 37(1): 25–51.


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