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I'm studying Japanese and recently I came across the term "double nominatives". The idea is that ga marks the nominative case, so a phrase with two ga has two phrases in the nominative case:

boku ga  eiga   ga  suki da
I    NOM movies NOM like COP
I like movies

I understand that the copula da is supposed to connect the subject to the complement. Since there's only one copula, it makes sense to think that there's only one subject. However, two phrases are marked as nominative. So one of them is nominative AND subject, and the other is ONLY nominative and NOT the subject.

My question is: if the nominative case isn't necessarily the subject, then what is the nominative case, if not the subject?

Note: I also understand that in the phrase above, we can attribute other functions to the first phrase, like experiencer, or focus. I think I've seen some studies claim ga marks either the subject or the focus. But now I'm seeing studies saying it marks the nominative case in both instances. I'm trying to understand how double-nominatives are supposed to work.

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    In many languages, the nominative is a sort of "default case" used when no other case-assignment happens (e.g. on either side of a copula). I don't know much about Japanese syntax, but does this cover your particular case? – Draconis Aug 4 '19 at 2:14
  • This seems to be the same as in German, where the copula doesn't take accusative, just nominative. – Adam Bittlingmayer Aug 4 '19 at 7:36
  • And the reason is somewhat understandable. x is y and y is x are really the same, keeping in mind that word order is free. – Adam Bittlingmayer Aug 4 '19 at 7:37
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    In Japanese and in this particular sentence, the word order would completely change the meaning, though: "movies like me". – LjL Aug 4 '19 at 20:58
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"Multiple Nominative Constructions in Japanese and Their Theoretical Implications", by Masahiro AKIYAMA, indicates that in at least some Japanese sentences with multiple noun phrases marked by ga, both are subjects (p. 51). There is a syntactic analysis, but I don't know syntactic theory or notation, so I can't explain it. The second ga-marked noun phrase is supposed to be "predicate-internal".

Actually, Akiyama identifies two categories for such sentences:

Multiple-nominative sentences in Japanese are classified into (at least) two types: those that involve a relation of inalienable possession between the nominative DPs ((1), MNC1), and those that do not ((2), MNC2).

(p. 50)

I'm not entirely sure whether your example fits into one of these categories, but I think it might be the second type. It looks a little similar to Akiyama's example 2a:

Haru-ga tai-ga uma-i
spring-NOM sea breams-NOM tasty-PRES
`Sea breams are tasty in spring.'

Comments mentioned the use of nominative NPs as predicative complements; e.g. in European languages such as German, but based on what I've read, I don't think that is related to your Japanese example. There is no apparent equation in your sentence between "boku ga" and "eiga ga": "I like movies" does not mean "I am movies". Also, I remember reading somewhere that Japanese "da" doesn't really work like the English copular verb be, so I'm not sure whether it's even considered accurate to call da a copula, rather than something else. At least, the matter seems to be sufficiently uncertain that there's an article titled "The Japanese Copula Revisited: Is da a Copula?", by Michio Tsutsui (which I haven't read). Da seems to be used with 好き (suki) because 好き is a na-adjective.

Apparently, there are some other ways that particles can be used in sentences with 好き. Here is a Japanese SE post about it: Difference between particles wa, ga and o with sukidesu

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  • Thanks. I thought the case was you had two nominatives, but only one is the subject. I didn't expect both of them to be subjects. It seems there's some difficult theory (and a book) explaining the requirements for subjecthood. – OdraEncoded Aug 5 '19 at 22:58

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