The Inanimate Subject from the Perspective of Linguistic Area and Linguistic Typology
110 , 2016-01-20 , 北海道大学文学研究科
It has already been crosslinguistically shown how animate subjects are preferred in
marked voice sentences (e.g. passive or causative). However, few studies have
crosslinguistically investigated the extent to which an animate agent should be a subject
in unmarked voice sentences. In this paper I examine this problem through a
questionnaire (19 pairs of sentences) in 13 languages of different areas and different
language families. Then I consider the following questions.
 Are the languages classified into the two extreme types, i.e., the animate
subject-oriented languages and the languages almost without restriction?
 Does the inclination/disinclination to animate subjects of the language have an
internal relationship with other typological features of the language?
 Is the latitude to the inanimate subject different among verbs?
 Are there any geographical biases concerning this tendency?
This paper is a first attempt on my consideration of the above questions. In
conclusion, I point out the following points:
・Crosslinguistically, inanimate subjects are unacceptable under the condition that the
inanimate subject is the direct actor and the object is affected. On the other hand,
inanimate subjects are acceptable under the condition that the action is indirect and the
inanimate subject is a trigger of human emotion or something similar. This factor can be considered as that of transitivity.
・Paying attention to the nominal character of the inanimate subject, it can be noticed
that the instrumental nouns tend not to be inanimate subjects, although the nouns which
have the intentional human participation on the background tend to be inanimate
・The Japanese language has a strong tendency to avoid inanimate subjects, and the
Korean and Indonesian languages follow it. While the Arabic and Persian languages
allow inanimate subjects to a considerable extent. SAE also allows them to certain
degree. I pointed out the factors of such distinction as follows: 1. Whether the personal
inflection on verb exists or not; 2. Grammatical gender exists or not; 3. Voice strategy.
The direction of voice change of the languages in question seems to especially be the
important typological feature which has systematic relation with other features.