Quirky Subjects in Lahpet

Quirky subject is a term used to refer to phrases that are subjects of verbs, but don’t take the normal case marking associated with subjects. They’re common with subjects whose roles aren’t 100% canonical agent-of-transitive-verb roles, things like experiencers or accidental actors. 


Lahpet verb arguments aren’t case-marked and subject and object can move pretty freely according to information structure. But you can still show that some arguments are patients rather than agents. Some experience verbs, like wao ‘to bore,’ tixin ‘to be cold,’ and dorok ‘to be hot’ code the experiencer as a patient. For simple sentences like Karo dorolle ‘Karo feels hot,’ that might not be apparent, but there are a few tests you can do.


These verbs allow stimuli to be coded as subjects. Sarunda Karo waore means ‘The class bores Karo’ or ‘Karo finds the class boring.’ But in the right context, so could Karo sarunda waore! So how can you distinguish which is subject and which is object?


One way is to look at derivation. There are two common morphemes that derive nouns from verbs: broadly, mi derives agent nouns and -em derives patient nouns. For example, since ovo kal means ‘to create,’ ovomi means ‘creator’ and ovom means ‘creation.’ There’s also a suffix -emme, which makes adjectives qualifying something as having undergone a process. So ovemme means ‘created, synthetic, artificial.’ If you apply the patient-oriented suffixes to a verb like wao, you get wabem ‘someone bored, someone drifting off’ and wabemme ‘bored.’ Those words have to do with the experiencer. On the other hand, related to the agent deriver you can get the word waomie ‘boring, dull’ which has to do with the stimulus. That’s one hint that the stimulus is the subject and the experiencer is the object. 


Another way is to look at sentence structure. Things move around a lot for pragmatic reasons, but the default order is still SOV. So let’s saturate the sentence: have an overt topic, focus, subject, and object. This is probably not too likely in speech, but it’s still grammatical. If you kept everything there, then you could translate ‘Today, which class did the teacher bore Karo in?’ as Anzi bammi Karo xa sarundan am waore na? Here anzi ‘today’ is definitely the topic and xa sarundan am ‘during which class’ is definitely the focus. That leaves bammi ‘teacher’ as the subject and Karo as the object.


So why not just call these objects? There’s other ways that these experiencers are subject-like. A common way to express volition is by serializing with the verb mi ‘to want.’ This only works if it’s the subject who’s also doing the wanting. You can say Karo wommire ‘Karo wants to eat’ using this construction. But if Karo wants somebody else to eat, you have to use another construction, like a complement clause: Karo mire xe yaro wom literally ‘Karo wants that his friend eats.’


If you serialize mi with an experiencer verb, you might expect that it would want the stimulus to do the wanting, since that seems to be coded as the subject. But it doesn’t! This construction treats the experiencer as the subject. Karo waomiba dimmu can only mean ‘Karo doesn’t want to be bored,’ and not ‘Karo doesn’t want to be boring (to someone else).’ 


I’m thinking of other subjecthood tests I could apply here, but the ones that come to mind, I’m not sure how they could work with Lahpet. There’s so much argument dropping I’m not sure that conjunction reduction/subject dropping is a good diagnostic. I don’t have any subject-oriented anaphora (yet?) and there aren’t restrictions on relativization or extraction (again, yet?). It’s a conlang, so I get to make the data. Whatever other subjecthood tests are relevant, these will probably pass. 


Alright, I’m done boring you! Go be warm!

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