GENGO KENKYU (Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan)
Online ISSN : 2185-6710
Print ISSN : 0024-3914
Presidents' Inaugural Lectures
On the ‘Subject’
Katsumi Matsumoto
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2022 Volume Supplement.2 Pages 43-74


The present paper aims to elucidate the reason why the notion of subject appeared in medieval Europe but not in other parts of the world, and the linguistic motivation for the emergence of this syntactic category in Europe and its absence elsewhere.

The appearance of the subject in the west European grammar was linguistically conditioned by the development of strict SVO word order combined with characteristic morphological attrition. Thus, the subject as a syntactic category is really a historical product in a relatively limited linguistic area which comprises those languages once called ‘Standard Average European’ by B. J. Whorf. These languages share the typologically unique feature known as ‘dummy subject’ and are described as ‘non-pro-drop’ languages. In short, the subject of these languages has resulted from the coalescence of three quite different linguistic functions which are usually grammaticalized separately ― discourse topic, morphological case marking, and semantic agent ― into a purely syntactic category.

The subject, in conclusion, cannot be a part of the theory of syntax as a universal category. It is a complex and heterogeneous concept encountered only in a limited number of languages. Therefore, any syntactic theory based exclusively on the study of such languages needs to be thoroughly reexamined if it claims to be universal in any sense. Rather, we must reappraise the old grammatical traditions, radically different from that of the west European school, in order to found a theory of universal grammar in the true sense.

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© 2022 The Linguistic Society of Japan, Authors
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