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Conference | Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (CIEL) Seminars

Alternating Dat-Nom / Nom-Dat constructions in Indo-European and the Extended Intransitive Hypothesis

Friday 13 October 2023
Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (CIEL) Seminars
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Argument structure constructions with one dative and one nominative, where the dative appears to be subject-like and the nominative object-like, are found all over the Indo- European languages, both modern and ancient. This type of alternation is shown below with examples from Latin:

(1a)     At     mihi  iam   puero    caelestia   sacra          placebant

and  I.dat   even boy.dat  mystic.nom services.nom liked.impf.3pl

            ‘And I, even as a boy, liked the mystic services’ (Ov. Tr. 4,10,19, 1c. BCE–1c. A.D.)

(1b)     Si  mos             antiquis                   placuisset            matribus    idem

            if   practice.nom  of.olden.times.dat  pleased.sbjv.3sg  mothers.dat  same.nom

     ‘If the same practice had pleased mothers of olden times.’

      (Ov. Am. 2,14,9, 1c. BCE–1c. A.D.)

For the early Indo-European languages one might argue that this word order variation is simply a reflection of freedom in word order, typical for most early Indo-European languages. However, word order variation of this kind also exists in several modern Indo-European languages, including Modern Icelandic, Modern Faroese, Modern German, Modern Lithuanian, Modern Russian, Modern Greek, and Modern Romanian, to mention only a few (Barðdal 2023: Ch. 3). What is more, each of the two word orders appears to represent an argument structure of its own, as each of the two manifests neutral word order in their own right in the respective languages.

In the modern languages where alternating structures of this type have been observed, as in Modern Icelandic and Modern Faroese, the fact that the subject is in the dative case is not remarkable, as non-nominative subjects are well known to exist in these languages. However, it is a constant source of surprise, and generally unexplained, why the object is in the nominative case, and not, say, in the accusative or the dative case. Some existing hypotheses are discussed and an alternative hypothesis launched, the Extended Intransitive Hypothesis.


Barðdal, Jóhanna. 2023. Oblique Subjects in Germanic: Their Status, History and Reconstruction. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Online participants may email spierscs@vuw.leidenuniv.nl for the Zoom link.

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