ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Metslang, Helena (Tartu)

nyomtatható változat

Differential subject marking in Estonian existential clauses

One can distinguish the following basic clause types in Estonian: the normal (transitive and intransitive) clauses, existential, possessive, source-marking resultative and experiential clauses (cf. Erelt and Metslang 2006: 254). The subject case alternation between the nominative and partitive is observed in the existential clauses and the possessive clauses; in other clause types the subject is invariably in the nominative. In Estonian, the existential clause is mainly used to present some new referent in a spatial or temporal location (or the whole situation) in order to characterize the location, for example:

(1)    Mustamäe mäge-de-l     kasva-vad  männi-d. (Nemvalts 2000: 149)
Mustamäe hill-PL-ADE     grow-3PL   pine-NOM.PL
‘There are pines growing on Mustamäe hills.’

(2)    Mustamäe mäge-de-l     kasva-b      mände.
Mustamäe hill-PL-ADE     grow-3SG  pine.PRTV.PL
‘(?Among the other trees) there are some pines growing on Mustamäe hills.’

The paper reassesses the findings of an earlier research on Estonian (especially Nemvalts 1996 and 2000), mainly by using corpus and dictionary analysis and the studies on closely related Finnish.  It presents a study on Estonian existential subjects (e-subjects) in fiction texts which shows that in the affirmative clauses there are two major case factors that condition the marking of about 80% of e-subjects (pragmatic factors and the subject noun’s properties), a smaller proportion of e-subjects depend on a variety of other conditions (phrasal and sentential context).

The talk focuses mainly on the pragmatic factor of the speaker’s perspective on referring to the subject referent(s), see the examples above. In fact, in the existential clauses subject to this constraint, the two subject cases are easily substitutable with each other. The academic grammar of Estonian (Erelt et al. 1993: 44) states that often there is even no semantic difference between the partitive and the nominative use, and that at large the meaning difference between the two cases only becomes apparent in a particular context. Its influence on the case-marking can be paraphrased as follows: there is some amount of these referents in this location (partitive subject marking), or: there are such referents in this location (nominative subject marking). I call this account the IMC-RMC (Identification of Membership of a Class vs. Reference to the Members of a Class). The nominative marking identifies the members of the class via quality and the partitive marking identifies them via quantity. A similar, class reference vs. quantification opposition, has also been attested in differential subject and object marking phenomena in Russian (Paykin and Van Peteghem 2002).

I will also account for the following context-related e-subject marking conditions: contextual boundary on the subject referent, quantifiers in the subject phrase, verbs and verb-governed sentence patterns determining the subject case.

In the affirmative existential clauses, the fundamental factor that underlies all the layers of subject case assignment is quantitative definiteness (inclusiveness). On different levels it manifests itself in association with either certain verbs, nouns, phrases, sentence patterns or sentence functions or allows the speaker to choose freely between inclusive and non-inclusive meaning. The language of the presentation is English.

Comrie, Bernard. 1975. The antiergative: Finland’s answer to Basque. Chicago Linguistic Society 11: 112–121.

Erelt, Mati, Reet Kasik, Helle Metslang, Henno Rajandi, Kristiina Ross, Henn Saari, Kaja Tael and Silvi Vare. 1993. Eesti keele grammatika II. Süntaks, lisa: kiri, ed. Mati Erelt. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Language and Literature.
Erelt, Mati and Helle Metslang. 2006. Estonian clause patterns – from Finno-Ugric to standard average European. In Linguistica Uralica 42/4:254–266. Online version, retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.eap.ee/public/va_lu/ling-2006-4-2.pdf.
Explanatory Dictionary of Estonian = Eesti keele seletav sõnaraamat. 2009. Ed. Margit Langemets, Mai Tiits, Tiia Valdre, Leidi Veskis, Ülle Viks, Piret Voll. Tallinn: Estonian Language Foundation.
Hakulinen, Auli, Maria Vilkuna, Riitta Korhonen, Vesa Koivisto, Tarja Riitta Heinonen and Irja Alho. 2004. Iso suomen kielioppi. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. Online version, retreived September 20, 2010, http://scripta.kotus.fi/visk.
Haspelmath:, Martin. 2001. Non-canonical marking of core arguments in European languages.” In: Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. & Dixon, R.M.W & Onishi, Masayuki (eds.) Non-canonical marking of subjects and objects. Typological Studies in Language, 46. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 53-83.

Helasvuo, Marja-Liisa 1996. Ollako vai eikö olla – eksistentiaalilauseen subjektin kohtalonkysymys. Virittäjä 3,340–356.
Jackendoff, R. 1991. Parts and boundaries, Cognition 41, 9-45.
Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria and Bernhard Wälchli. 2001. The Circum-Baltic languages. An areal-typological approach. In Circum-Baltic Languages. Vol. 2: Grammar and typology, ed. Östen Dahl and Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Studies in Language Companion Series 55:615−750. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Lyons, Christopher. 1999. Definiteness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nemvalts, Peep. 1996. Case marking of subject phrases in modern standard Estonian. Doctoral Dissertation, Uppsala University.
Nemvalts, Peep. 2000. Aluse sisu ja vorm: alusfraasi käändevaheldus tänapäeva eesti kirjakeeles. Tallinn: Estonian Language Foundation.
Paykin, Katia and Marleen Van Peteghem. 2002. Definiteness in a Language without Articles: a Case-study of Russian. Recherches linguistiques de Vincennes 31:97–112.
Rätsep, Huno. 1978. Eesti keele lihtlause tüübid. ENSV TA Emakeele Seltsi toimetised 12. Tallinn: Valgus.
Vähämäki, Börje K. 1984. Existence and identity: a study of the semantics and syntax of existential sentences in Finnish. Publications of the Research Institute of the Åbo Akademi Foundation 99. Turku: Åbo akademi.