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The nominative case in Baltic in a typological perspective

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Abstract

The paper is a semasiological study of the nominative case in Baltic languages, including morphological and primarily syntactic and semantic-pragmatic aspects. Morphologically, the Baltic nominative case is marked in almost all declensions and numbers by dedicated affixes. Syntactically, the nominative marking is a necessary but not sufficient condition to claim subjecthood; in fact, different nominative NP types correlate with subjecthood to different degrees in Baltic. Except for locutor (i.e. first and second person) pronouns, only the combination of the nominative marking with verbal agreement justifies analyzing an NP as a subject. In addition to subjects, the nominative case also codes “direct” nominative objects and nominative time adverbials. Pragmatically, (overt) nominative NPs are predominantly used in the subject position to signal emphasis (e.g. in terms of contrastive topic or topic shift, focus/new information), i.e. to signal that the subject referent is unexpected on the background of the set of the discursively salient alternative referents. With time adverbials, the nominative case encodes emphasis on the time value referred to by the adverbial against the set of contextually potential alternatives. Semantically, the correlation of the nominative case with agenthood and/or volitionality/control parallels emphasis in that agenthood can be viewed as prominence on the level of semantic roles whereas emphasis as prominence in terms of pragmatics.

References

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