Subjects and objects in Germanic and Romance

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The syntactic functions of <i>subject</i> and <i>object</i> are usually characterized by a certain semantic role and/or discourse function (information structure). In a &#8220;free word order&#8221; language, the position of a phrase at main clause level tends to be determined by its discourse function, while retaining its prototypical semantic role. In this paper we show that in the earlier stages of Germanic (represented by Norwegian) and of Romance (Spanish), the syntactic functions of subject and object were largely characterized by their semantic role, rather than by information structure. These languages then underwent a change, whereby the discourse-functional properties of subjects and objects became more prominent, allowing subjects to express various semantic roles.


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