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Subjecthood in specificational copular constructions in Lithuanian

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Abstract

Superficially, copular sentences serving specificational function, such as The winner of the race is John or The tallest girl in the class is Molly, look like inverted structures as compared with their more usual predicative counterparts, cf. John is the winner of the race and Molly is the tallest girl in the class. Though in terms of word order the specificational copular construction can be thought of as derived from its predicative counterpart by means of inversion, this inversion is strongly motivated by the communicative demands of specification and adds new structural properties to the construction: the former predicative nominal ‘moved’ into precopular position inevitably acquires an existential presupposition with regard to its unique referent, thus exhibiting role definiteness, and the information structure of the construction becomes bound to the different referential functions of its two nominals (the role defining NP is always a topic and the role specifying NP a comment). There are thus good functional and structural reasons to treat this specificational construction as a distinctive subtype of copular predication. Syntactically, however, the specificational copular construction, as compared to its predicative counterpart, remains, in many respects, a non-canonical predication. For instance, pseudoclefts (which represent a special case of the specificational copular construction), pose serious challenges to Binding Theory because of certain well-known connectivity effects. Another problem with this kind of copular predication − and this will be the topic of this article − is the inconsistency of subject assignment in such constructions across languages (and sometimes even within the same language). For example, in English, Danish, Swedish and French, the morphosyntactic marking of the subject is conferred on the first nominal of the specificational copular construction, while in Lithuanian, Russian, as well as in Italian and German, the second nominal of the construction acquires this marking. The fact that semantically equivalent structures acquire opposite patterns of morphosyntactic coding of the main grammatical relation, suggesting opposite directions of conceptualization of essentially the same specificational relation, poses a challenge to the main principle of Cognitive Grammar, the so-called content requirement. If one sticks rigorously to the morphosyntactic coding used in specificational copular sentences, one encounters difficulties with defining grammatical relations in terms of conceptual relevance, i.e., as a trajector / landmark configuration.

References

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