What is a Subject?

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (c.s.bartholomew@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Sat May 27 2000 - 16:44:34 EDT

You ask one question and it raises another question. After pondering the
following texts I have a new question to raise. What is a Subject?



" . . . our definition of the Subject function is basically a semantic one"
Simon Dik*

In NT Greek study we have the habit of thinking that the subject is defined
by case marking but after a little reflection we should see that this is not
always the case. Not all nominatives are subjects and not all subjects are
nominatives. But is a dative constituent ever a subject? Well, that depends
on how you define a subject.

Simon Dik* defines subject as "that constituent which refers to the entity
which is taken as a point of departure for the presentation of the state of
affairs in which it participates." Dik admits that this is a little vague
:-))) . However, the important issue isn't really whether or not we are
happy with his definition. The important issue is whether or not we are
willing to accept a semantic functional definition of the subject, even if
it could be stated in crystal clear precise terminology. I suspect that a
number of B-greeks would have a problem with this more basic question.

Anyway, I don't have any answers, only questions. Looking at the two texts I
have quoted above they seem to have some similarity to the examples Dik uses
to show how the semantic Recipient can function as a subject. However I find
myself unwilling to accept the idea of a constituent in the dative case as a
subject because deep down inside I am a traditionalist :-)))))).

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

*p. 87, Dik, Simon. Functional Grammar, Dordrecht, Netherlands,1981.

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