The 'subject' of a sentence is a concept that presents great challenges to
linguists. Most languages have something which looks like a subject, but
subjects differ across languages in their nature and properties, making
them an interesting phenomenon for those seeking linguistic universals.
This pioneering volume takes a new approach to subjects, addressing their
nature from a simultaneously formal and typological perspective. Dividing
the subject into two distinct grammatical functions, it shows how the
nature of these functions explains their respective properties, and argues
that the split in properties shown in 'ergative' languages (whereby the
subject of intransitive verbs is marked as an object) results from the
functions being assigned to different elements of the clause. Drawing on
data from a typologically wide variety of languages, including English,
Hebrew, Tagalog, Inuit and Acehnese, it explains why, even in the case of
very different languages, certain core properties can be found.