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‘Oblique subjects’, structural and lexical case marking

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Abstract

The present paper is an attempt to give an integrated account of certain developments in North Germanic syntax: (1) Modern Icelandic and Faroese have so-called oblique subjects, i.e. dative, accusative or even genitive NPs with essentially the same distribution and syntactic rule properties as modern Mainland Scandinavian subjects. (2) Both Old and Modern Icelandic have a rather intricate system of lexical case assignment which differs from, e.g., the predominantly structural case assignment of Modern German. (3) Old Icelandic has DO-IO as well as IO-DO order, whereas Modern Icelandic, like non-case-marking Modern Mainland Scandinavian, to a greater extent has IO-DO. — On the basis of these data it is argued that after the North Germanic shift to SVO, the development has been in the direction of a modern topologically, not morphologically oriented syntax both in the non-case-marking and the case-marking languages. Among other things, this explains why case assignment has remained lexical and idiosyncratic in Icelandic instead of shifting to a simpler system of structural case assignment.

References

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