Subject is defined as the argument which agrees with the affixes of the verb. But if a language does not have inflectional affixes, can you state that this particular language does not have syntactic functions ?

  • I can't prove it, but a grammatical subject simply identifies the index that links to all of the predicates that share that logical subject (like a folder name).
    – amI
    Sep 23, 2018 at 1:11

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"Subject" is not defined as the argument which agrees with the affixes of the verb. Sometimes, "subject" is defined as that argument which verbs agree with. In the modern era, you might start with the paper by Ed Keenan, "Towards a universal definition of “subject”", in Li (ed) 1975 Subject and topic. Keenan had about 30 properties that he associated with subjecthood, which are not all necessary or sufficient. There is a methodological problem with the concept of "definition" in linguistics, that we don't have a theory of what a "definition" is, so one might present "a fundamental characteristic of a thing" as part of the definition of the thing. Or, one might present identificational diagnostics as part of the "definition" of a thing.

  • Many of the concepts that were obvious to I-E language speakers, like "subject", are not so obvious worldwide. There is nothing in an ergative language that corresponds to what accusative language speakers call "subject", for instance, since transitive "subject" is marked differently from intransitive "subject", which is marked the same as transitive object. Austronesian languages like Malagasy (which Keenan was grappling with) stretch the concept even thinner, often with three separate categories, for transitive "subject", intransitive "subject", and transitive object.
    – jlawler
    Sep 23, 2018 at 21:47

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