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Conference on the Endangered Languages of East Asia


会場:Online (参加締め切り済み)


Danning Wang and Michinori Shimoji - Double-subject construction in East Asian Languages: a typological survey



Double-Subject Construction in East Asian Languages:

A Typological Survey

Danning Wang and Michinori Shimoji

This talk examines the Double-Subject Construction (DSC) in three East-Asian minority languages, Aragusuku (Ryukyuan, Japan), Shiiba (Japanese, Japan), and She (Sino-Tibetan, China). They are all critically endangered but are little documented. The present study aims to draw the world’s attention to these languages by showing how the study of DSC in these languages can contribute to the theoretical advancement of language typology.

DSC is a non-verbal sentence which encodes external possession, where the possessor and the possessed are both encoded as a surface subject, a construction widely observed in East Asian languages (Li and Thompson 1981, etc.). (1) illustrates DSC in Aragusuku.

(1) karjaa mii=nu=du upumunu.

3sg.TOP eyes=NOM=FOC big "As for him, (his) eyes are big."

In DSC, the two arguments are in a whole-part (i.e. possessive) relationship. For example, in (1) the first argument is the possessor of the body part denoted by the second.

Languages differ with regard to whether DSC is permissible depending on the type of possession exhibited by the two arguments. For instance, in Aragusuku, DSC is ungrammatical if the first argument is the possessor of an alienable object.

(2) *karjaa fuku=nu=du upumunu.

3sg.TOP clothes=NOM=FOC big "As for him, (his) clothes are big. "

This talk aims to show that there is a considerable cross-linguistic variability concerning the type of possession relationship for which DSC is permissible and to give a coherent analysis of the variability. It will be shown that the Possession Cline (Tsunoda 1991; (3)) is relevant in the typology of DSC. That is, in all three languages being examined, DSC is more readily used for the upper end of the cline. (1) and (2) instantiate the left-most category ‘Body part’ and the category ‘Clothing’ respectively.

(3) Body part > Attribute > Clothing > Kin > Domesticated animal > product > Others

Table 1 below is a summary of the comparison of the three languages. As indicated, one minor modification of the Possessive Cline is suggested to accommodate the otherwise exceptional behaviors found in our language samples. Specifically, unlike Tsunoda’s (1991) original Possession Cline, the present study divides the category “attribute” (one’s knowledge, height, skill, etc.) into two subtypes, inherent and derived.

Table 1. DSC: in terms of the Possession Cline

The derived attribute is involved in situations where the agent’s continuous successful performance (e.g. writing beautiful characters) leads the product of the performance (e.g. beautifully written characters) to become the agent’s permanent skill, i.e. a derived attribute.  One test for derived-attribute-hood is whether the construction in question can be an adequate answer to a question like "What is he like?", a question which asks the property of the person in question. (4a) passes this test whereas (4b) does not. This way, the identification of (4a) as the derived attribute category places (4a) to the right position on the cline (as shown in Table 1) and distinguishes it from instances like (4b), a true example of ‘product’.

(4) Aragusuku

a. [Derived attribute] karjaa zɨɨ=nu=du kagimunu.

3sg.TOP character=NOM=FOC beautiful “As for him, (his) characters are beautifully written.” (i.e. He has good handwriting)

b. [Product] *karjaa zɨɨ=nu=du takamunu. 3sg.TOP character=NOM=FOC expensive “As for him, (his) characters are expensive.” (talking of a famous calligrapher)


Li, Charles N. & Thompson, S. A. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference

grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tsunoda, Tasaku 1991 [Languages in the world and Japanese: from the typology

perspective]. Tokyo: Shirokuro Press.




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