Talk by Miriam Butt at the Linguistisches Projektkolloquium


The New Indo-Aryan (NIA) language Urdu/Hindi allows for a whole range of different types of subjects. In addition to the well-known nominative/ergative split (conditioned by aspectual morphology and volitionality) and dative/experiencer subjects, instrumental, accusative, genitive and various types of locative subjects also occur. The most comprehensive discussion to date of possible subject marking along with language specific subject tests for Urdu/Hindi is Mohanan (1994). However, we have identified several additional types of locative subjects. These also engage in patterns of semantically-driven Differential Case Marking. Historical data show that a basic system of semantically-based Differential Case Marking was in place as early as Old Indo-Aryan (OIA), however, OIA is generally thought to not allow for oblique subjects. Historical data also shows that most of the case markers employed in NIA have been innovated from about 1200 CE on.

The talk surveys the synchronic situation of Urdu/Hindi with respect to possible subject marking and then takes a look at the historical origin of the individual markers used on the subjects. It is shown that most of the new markers (with the exception of the genitive) are drawn from originally spatial terms like 'at', 'with', 'near', including the synchronic ergative case. This raises the question of how these types of spatial terms can end up marking subjects. The talk speculates on some possible answers by drawing on the lexical semantic view of case formulated by Butt and King (2005) and the in-depth study on the emergence of the ergative case presented in Butt and Ahmed (2012).