Mathias Jenny to present a paper at the SLE conference in Stockholm

Grammatical Relations in Mon – synatctic tests in an isolating language

Mon is an Austroasiatic language spoken by about 800’000 people mainly in southern Myanmar and a few communities in central Thailand.

As a largely isolating language, Mon does not have any overt markers expressing grammatical relations; there are neither case markers nor verb agreement. On the syntactic level, the notion of Subject competes with Topic and (less prominently) Agent as pivot in a number of constructions. The basic word order can be described as SV and AVO/AVGT, though fronting of topical (or focal) O/T is frequent, as are unexpressed arguments. In AOV word order, with fronted O and A, A and/or O usually carry an overt topic marker and A appears in what Van Valin and LaPolla (1997:36) call “left detached position”.

The present study looks at ways to establish grammatical relations by means of syntactic tests and describes the constructions that are potentially sensitive to the notions S, A and O (plus T and G with ditransitive predicates). These constructions include, among others, relative expressions, conjunction reduction, causatives, raising and control verbs. The main questions to be answered in this study are whether S, A, O, T, and G are to be postulated in an adequate description of Mon and in which constructions, if any, these notions are needed. It will be seen that equi-deletion works in some types of conjoined clauses, but not others, i. e. the S/A can be omitted if it is identical to the S/A (but not O) of the preceding clause. Control verbs require omission of the S/A of the dependent verb if it is identical to the main verb S/A. In desiderative expressions with different S/A, the dependent verb is introduced by a 'dummy causative' marker kɒ 'give' (cf. Enfield 2009:811) and the dependent S/A may be overtly expressed between kɒ and the dependent verb. 'Dummy causatives' are also used with some non-agentive predicates in desiderative and imperative/prohibitive expressions. Raising constructions and relative expressions appear to be available to S/A as well as O (and probably T and G), while long-distance reflexives require a (potentially covert) higher-level discourse S/A ('cognizer') as antecedent.

Based on original texts, both spoken and written, as well as elicited data, this study constitutes the first attempt to establish grammatical relations in Mon. As basic typological theoretical background of the study serve publications by Van Valin & LaPolla (1997), Croft (2001), Bickel (2011), among others.


Bickel, Balthasar. 2011. Grammatical Relations typology. In Jae Jung Song (ed.) The Oxford handbook of linguistic typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 399-444.

Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Enfield, Nick. 2009. 'Case relations' in Lao, a radically isolating language. In Andrej Malchukov & Andrew Spencer. The Oxford handbook of case. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 808-19.

Van Valin, Robert D. Jr. & Randy LaPolla. 1997. Syntax. Structure, meaning and function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.