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Reviewed by:
  • Differential subject marking
  • Raúl Aranovich
Differential subject marking. Ed. by Helen de Hoop and Peter de Swart. (Studies in natural language and linguistic theory 72.) Dordrecht: Springer, 2008. Pp. xii, 305. ISBN 9781402064982. $59.95.

Languages have differential subject marking (DSM) when case marking, agreement, or constituent order codes some subjects differently from others. Work on split ergative languages provides much of what is already known about DSM, as does research on dative or genitive subjects (see Aikhenvald et al. 2001 for a recent collection of papers on this topic). But DSM has gained new currency due to Aissen’s (2003) optimality-theoretic treatment of differential object marking (DOM). Unmarked objects satisfy constraints that penalize the alignment of a low-ranked grammatical function (object) with high-ranked features of person, animacy, or specificity. This ‘harmonic alignment’ model makes the prediction that DSM is the mirror image of DOM: marked subjects should rank low on the scales of person, animacy, and specificity. The volume under review examines the consequences of this approach for the analysis of DSM.

The collection of chapters in this book originates from a 2004 workshop on ‘Differential Subject Marking’ held in Nijmegen. The chapters, which are quite substantive at an average of twenty-five pages each, have been carefully edited and peer-reviewed. The majority of the chapters address DSM phenomena in particular languages. Most of the constructions analyzed in them involve case-marking phenomena, but four of them also investigate the way in which verbal agreement codes DSM. These chapters are grouped after the chapters that examine DSM by means of case, providing the only recognizable linear organization of the book. The eleven chapters that make the body of the work are thoroughly summarized in an introduction by the editors. They also present a review of the optimality-theoretic model developed by Helen de Hoop, Andrej Malchukov, and their collaborators. They suggest that patterns of DSM are sensitive to the strength of the subject, measured in terms of Paul Hopper and Sandra Thompson’s transitivity hypothesis: the higher the transitivity of the clause, the stronger the subject. Some of the factors that contribute to high transitivity are individuation of the arguments (in terms of person/animacy/specificity), volitionality and control over the event, the aspectual features of the predicate (i.e. perfectivity), and the semantic role of the subject. It is instructive to read across the different chapters, looking for the ways in which these factors affect DSM.

The semantic role of the subject as a factor in DSM is discussed prominently in the chapter by Dmitry Ganenkov, Timur Maisak, and Solmaz Merdanova. Their data come from Agul, an East Caucasian ergative language with a rich case system. Agul also marks the subject with dative case if the subject is an experiencer, and locative cases can be used to mark possessor subjects and other arguments that can be construed as landmarks.

A number of papers link DSM to the rank of the subject in a hierarchy of person/animacy features, or specificity/definiteness. Hanjung Lee’s quantitative (corpus-based) analysis of Korean shows that ellipsis of nominative is less likely to occur with third-person subjects than with local-person subjects, and also less likely to occur with inanimate than with animate subjects. In addition, definite subjects seem to favor case ellipsis. Jaklin Kornfilt identifies the opposite tendency regarding the role of specificity in null vs. genitive marking of subjects in Turkish. Turkish embedded nominal clauses have genitive subjects, but the genitive suffix is absent from some nonspecific subjects. An issue that Kornfilt raises in passing is the role of case in distinguishing topics from subjects. This issue is central in the papers by Yukiko Morimoto and Mark Donohue. Morimoto analyzes an inverse construction in Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, and Dzamba (Bantu), in which the canonical order of P and A is reversed. In this construction, the V agrees with the preverbal P, not with the postverbal A. Morimoto argues that the A is still a subject, and that the P governs agreement in the inverse construction because it is a...


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