- The Linguistic Society of Japan
- 言語研究 (ISSN:00243914)
- vol.1991, no.100, pp.1-41, 1991-12-25 (Released:2007-10-23)
The notion of ‘subject’ as a grammatical category first appeared in Western Europe about the 12th to 13th century by the name of ‘suppositum’ and was theoretically elaborated on by the Medieval grammarians called ‘modistae’. Before that, however, it was quite unknown, surprising indeed, in any grammatical tradition of the world ; neither Apollonios, nor Priscianus, nor Panini, nor Arab grammarians knew such a category. The present lecture aims to elucidate the reason why the notion of subject did appear in Medieval Europe but not in other parts of the world, and the linguistic motivations for its appearance in Europe or its absence elsewhere. I shall discuss, especially, the theory of karaka of Panini, who completely dispenses with syntactic relations such as subject and object, the Stoic theory of kategorema, which foreshadows the later subject-predicate notion, the theory of mubtada'/khabar (=Topic/Comment) and of ‘amil/ma ’ mul (=regens/rectum) of the Arab grammarians after the 8th century, and finally the theory of suppositum/appositum (=subject/predicate) and principium/terminus (=the relation of ‘subject of ’/ ‘object of’) of the European modista. The appearance of subject in the West European grammar, it will be pointed out, was linguistically conditioned by the development of the strict SVO word-order combined with the characteristic morphological attrition, especially the loss of nominal cases and of verbal person markings, which seems to have been brought about by the creole-like processes resulting from the bi- or multilingual situations among the Germanic and Romance speaking peoples in close contact during the Medieval age. This can most typically be seen in the case of Middle English. Thus, thesubject as a syntactic category is really a historical product in a quite limited linguistic area which comprises those languages once called SAE (= “Standard Average European ”) by B. L. Whorf. They share a typologically unique feature known as “dummy subject” and thus manifesting themseleves as so-called “non-pro-drop” languages. In short, the subject of SAE has resulted from the coalescence of three quite different linguistic functions into a purely syntactic category, namely, 1) the discourse topic, which was the very starting point of the Medieval notion of suppositum, 2) the morphological case-marking (i. e. nominative vs. accusative), and 3) the semantic agent (or rather the “primary role”) of a verb. Usually, these functions are separately grammaticalized in other languages, e. g. as mubtada' and fail in Arabic, as wa and ga in Japanese, as “focus” and case in Philippine languages, as word-order, case and verbal endings in Old Indo-European languages. The subject, in conclusion, cannot be part of the theory of syntax as a universal category. It is quite a complex and heterogeneous concept in its origin, and manifests as surface syntactic phenomena only in a very limited number of -languages. Therefore, any syntactic theory based exclusively on the observations 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 West European or “Aristotelo-Cartesian” school in order to found a theory of “Universal Grammar” in the true sense. (This is a revised version of the Presidential Lecture given at the 102nd General Meeting of the Linguistic Society of Japan held at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, June 6th, 1991).