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422Re: Subject vs. object vs. agent

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  • David Kiltz
    May 14, 2003
      On Mittwoch, Mai 14, 2003, at 06:03 Uhr, Carl Hostetter wrote:

      > When you used "subject" as a shorthand for the "logical subject" of
      > the sentence, others (quite naturally, I think) took it to mean the
      > _grammatical_ subject of the sentence. This was not really a matter
      > of form, but of grammatical vs. (your view of) logical function. But I
      > still haven't been persuaded that the predicate prepositional phrases
      > in the sentences under discussion are in any way a subject, logical or
      > otherwise. CFH]

      The distinction logical vs grammatical subject is, IMHO, in general
      terms unfortunate.

      The definition of "grammatical subject" is apparently based solely on
      formal grounds.

      [Not at all. I think of the grammatical subject of a sentence as that
      part of the sentence filling the role or function of the subject,
      regardless of its form. You are quite right to have noted that form and
      function must be kept separate (no matter how much they might coincide
      at times); but that is not the failure of distinction here. As I see it,
      you are taking a predicate prepositional phrase == prep. + grammatical obj.
      of prep., and calling this the "subject" of the sentence, by which you mean
      "logical subject". I have yet to be convinced that this has any validity,
      but even if it does, it was your use of "subject" for (whatever you mean by)
      "logical subject" that caused the confusion. CFH]

      I think this view doesn't do the language justice. If, syntactically,
      the subject is the first participant of a verb (or the only one of the
      copula) then it is most prominently encoded as nominative but it
      doesn't have to be. As you accepted, "to be" doesn't take an object.
      What then is "thee", the object of a preposition ? I never heard
      anybody call it that.

      [Oh, but I have, many, many times, from many different sources,
      spoken and written. I daresay anyone educated in grammar in an
      English-speaking school will have learned to call such the "object of
      the preposition". CFH]

      The term object is ambiguous here since it is applied to two
      syntactically (not formally) completely different phenomena. What I'm
      aiming it, is establishing a relation between the syntactical terms subject
      and object vis-à-vis case endings. Unlike Ivan Derzhanski I don't think
      this obscures anything because there is no one-to-one relation between
      those categories. I still don't see how it could make sense to say a
      preposition takes the accusative and dative, hence we give it the same
      name as a syntactical relation to a verb.

      [And yet we do, and for very long now have. CFH]

      Why bother with syntax anyway, if we don't make a distinction? I'm not
      trying to obscure an equation that doesn't exist but to illustrate a
      difference.

      Out of curiosity: How would you define the function of subject and
      object in a sentence?

      [I don't think I would attempt to; I'm not that kind of linguist. But I
      knows 'em when I sees 'em. CFH]

      David Kiltz
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