Quirky subject

Quirky subject

Quirky subjects (also called "oblique subjects") are a linguistic phenomenon whereby certain verbs specify that their subjects are to be in a case other than the nominative.[1][2]

For example a sentence like "*Me like him" is ungrammatical in Standard English because the subject is ordinarily in the nominative. In many or most modern nominative–accusative languages this rule is inflexible, the subject is indeed in the nominative case, and almost all treat the subjects of all verbs the same. Icelandic is of interest to linguistics as it has been argued to be a modern Indo-European language with an exceptionally large number of quirky subjects. Example: Mig (me) vantar (needs) penna (a pen-accusative). (I need a pen.) The verb is always in the third person.[3]

The class of quirky subjects in Icelandic is a large one, consisting of hundreds of verbs in a number of distinct classes: experiencer verbs like vanta (need/lack), motion verbs like reka (drift), change of state verbs like ysta (curdle), verbs of success/failure like takast (succeed/manage to), verbs of acquisition like áskotnast (acquire/get by luck), and many others.[4]

Old Swedish also had quirky subjects. Swedish verbs forced subjects to agree in person around the 15th century, the advent of modern Swedish. Agreement in number remained in written Swedish as late as the 20th century, though, even though all subject–verb agreement had disappeared in speech by the 17th century.[2]

Quirky subjects can also be found to a lesser degree across the West Germanic languages (including Old and Middle English as well as Modern German), the Romance languages, and the Slavic languages.

Many linguists, especially from various persuasions of the broad school of cognitive linguistics, do not use the term "quirky subjects" since the term is biased towards languages of nominative–accusative type. Often, "quirky subjects" are semantically motivated by the predicates of their clauses. Dative-subjects, for example, quite often correspond with predicates indicating sensory, cognitive, or experiential states across a large number of languages. In some cases, this can be seen as evidence for the influence of active–stative typology.

See also


  1. ^ Rögnvaldsson, Eiríkur (1991). "Quirky Subjects in Old Icelandic". In Halldór Ármann Sigurðsson. Papers from the Twelfth Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics. pp. 369–378.. http://www.hi.is/~eirikur/quirkysb.pdf. 
  2. ^ a b Fischer, Susann (2004). "The diachronic relationship between quirky subjects and stylistic fronting". In Peri Bhaskararao; Karumuri V. Subbarao. Non-nominative Subjects. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 193–212. ISBN 9027229708. http://books.google.com/books?id=Tg3XQlsgnHQC&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=%22quirky+subjects%22+icelandic&source=web&ots=fwoznh_ZM5&sig=J8yClnj1DdZmFaMpLxpuKsrXpl8&hl=en#PPA193,M1. 
  3. ^ Faarlund, Jan T. (2001). "The notion of oblique subject and its status in the history of Icelandic". In Jan T. Faarlund. Grammatical relations in change. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 99–135. 
  4. ^ Jónsson, Jóhannes G. (2003). "Not so quirky: On subject case in Icelandic". New Perspectives on Case Theory. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications. pp. 127–163. 

Further reading

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