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Re: Subject vs. object vs. agent/terminology

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  • Hans Georg Lundahl
    We have 1 the _logical_ opposition of _subject_ and _predicate_, the underlying concept and the statement made about it. In Eric kills Edgar EITHER noun
    Message 1 of 6 , May 15, 2003
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      We have
      1 the _logical_ opposition of _subject_ and _predicate_, the underlying concept and the statement made about it.
      In "Eric kills Edgar" EITHER noun could be the subject, according to what is required by the syllogism:

      (Eric as subject:)
      "Eric kills Edgar"
      "Whoever kills Edgar or captures him deserves a reward"
      ergo:
      "Eric deserves a reward"

      (Edgar as subject:)
      "Eric kills Edgar"
      "Whomever Eric kills, dies quickly and gets a decent burial"
      ergo:
      "Edgar dies quickly and gets a decent burial"

      2 the _grammatical_ opppositions:
      main noun - attribute (the genitive or adjective or apposited noun constructed in congruence with noun)
      _The car_ - _of Eric_
      _The blue_ - _car_
      _The Rolls Royce_ - _car_
      (_Car_ main noun in all phrases)

      subject - predicate (the verb constructed in congruence with the subject)
      _Eric_ - _kills [Edgar]_
      _Edgar_ - _is killed [by Eric]_
      NB:
      older terminology called both main noun and subject "suppositum"
      both adjective, apposition and predicate "appositum"
      and genitive "appositum ex obliquo", which term might make some sense for objects, adverbials of circumstance and agents too

      subject - object (the opposite of the subject in an active construction, the noun that would have been subject of the opposite verb, same concept with opposite construction)
      _Eric_ - _[kills] Edgar_
      subject - agent (the opposite of the subject in a passive construction)
      _Edgar_ - _[is killed] by Eric_
      subject/predicate - adverbial of some circumstance
      _Eric killed Edgar_ - _yesterday_

      3 the _thematic_ or _semantic_ oppositions:
      agent - patient (whatever thing is brought to being or modified in being by agent)
      _Eric_ - _Edgar_
      sense object - sensor (whoever or whatever animal senses the sense object)
      advantage - the one to whose advantage it is - [benefactor]
      disadvantage - etc
      thing/action - circumstance thereof (time, place, et c...)
      _Eric killed Edgar_ - _yesterday_

      These distinctions and oppositions do NOT coincide perfectly, but rather overlap, and they overlap differently in different languages.

      If you regard the ergative case in ergative languages as a special kind of nominative or if you regard it as an instrumental of agent of essentially passive constructed verbs, though logically the subject, is beside the point of this general outline of necessary grammatical distinctions and their partial overlapping with logic and semantics.

      A consistent international teminology does not really exist.

      In English a verb or a preposition takes an object. In other languaeges only verbs do. In German a _Präpositionsobjekt_ is the object of a verb, marked by a preposition rather than an oblique case in its pure form:

      _Er wurde WEGEN DES TODSCHLAGS ZUR TODESSTRAFE verurtheilt_ (_He was sentenced FOR MANSLAUGHTER TO DEATH PENALTY_) is a forensic sentence with two _Präpositionsobjekte_ in a row.

      Ordinarily the noun after a preposition is not called _Präpositionsobjekt_ but just a _Hauptwort mit einer Präposition_, _noun with a preposition_. Introducing the term _Objekt eiener Präposition_, _object of a preposition_ would cause confusion in German grammatical terminology, since it would make people call things _Präpositionsobjekt_ when all they meant was _object of a preposition_.

      A subject however is in origin a logical term, meaning the underlying: what underlies any statement is what the statement is about. In logic, as distinct from grammar, there is no special formal requirement on cases or moods involved.

      And in many languages that _usually_ comes out by what the verb conjugates in congruence with (finite moods with nominative, some infinite moods with some oblique cases). That is where the concept of grammatical subject comes in.

      If you have an impersonal verb, you do not have any real subject, only objects. But you may have logical subjects: what would have been logically the subject of the finite verb if it had had a meaning requiring another thematic role for subject.

      Lith. (I use sh as transcription of s-hachek):
      _man reishkia atsakyti_ (_for-me is-necessary to-answer_) has no noun or pronoun in the nominative, only one in the dative, marking the one (in this case _me_) who has the disadvantage to need answering or to whom it is a necessary advantage to answer.

      If one had had another verb, like simple _answer_, or modal _can answer_ one would logically have said:
      _ash atsakau_ (_I answer_)
      _ash galiu atsakyti_ (_I am able to answer_)
      which makes _man_ the logical, but not grammatical, subject of
      _man reishkia atsakyti_ (_for-me is-necessary to-answer_==_I must answer_)
      Grammatically _man_ remains the dative object of _reishkia_.

      And if you say:
      _ash megstu kâva_ (_I like coffee_)
      or (somewhat unidiomatically for such a material thing as drink)
      _man patinka kavà_ (_me pleases coffee_)
      the first person has the same thematic role which would logically have made him the subject in the second sentence if _patikti_ had meant something about the person feeling liking.

      In Russian you tend to avoid passive verbs. Instead of saying the Russian equivalent of
      _This gazette is much read_
      (passive construction, where _this gazette_ is subject of _is much read_)
      you would say
      _This gazette much [they] read_
      (active construction, where _this gazette_ is object of _[they] read much_)

      But as in good logic, independently of the construction, _this gazette_ is what you are talking about and _[they] read it_ is what you are saying about it, you can call _this gazette_ - thematically the patient or sense object of the act of reading, grammatically the accusative object of the verb _[they] read_ - the logical subject of the sentence, since it would logically have been the subject if Russian had here used a verb with passive construction. Of course there would be this possibility of making grammatical subject coincide with logical subject to use a verb with passive construction, like a reflexive verb:
      _This gazette reads-itself much_
      but I think that might be somewhat less idiomatic. Not that I really know Russian, but I gathered so from reading a Russian grammar a few hours ago.

      And when I said above that adverbials of circumstance - and concomitance with a certain other person is such a thing - would have been _apposita ex obliquo_ in the older grammatic terminology (say 14th C), I took my stand also against regarding them as expressable by a nominative as such, i.e. a noun which is the main noun of the noun phrase or the noun without a phrase which is the _suppositum_ of a verb, the subject of a sentence.

      Even if the prepositions of Quenya were conjugated exactly as verbs, that would not be a clear case for regarding the pronominal endings as nominatives:
      - A, because they do not correspond in sense to nominatives but rather to some general oblique case
      - B, because we cannot infer from the fact that finite verbs are constructed in congruence with nominative nouns or separate pronouns that pronominal endings stand for pronouns in the nominative, etymologically, so the coincidence of (even active) conjugation of verbs with conjugation of prepositions would not mean the latter were prepositions with nominatives. In Turkish the conjugation of verbs coincides with the possessive pronominal endings, as far as I can recall my language typology textbooks. Anyone fluent in Turkish please correct me if I am wrong!

      Hans Georg Lundahl

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