"World" subjects of meteorological predicates

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Feb 14 14:38:58 UTC 2008

In response to Pål's query:

In Minangkabau, and in some Indonesian dialects of Sumatra and Borneo,  
the word for 'day' is used in construction with meteorological and  
other temporal expressions.  The following examples are from Riau  

(1) Hari hujan
     day rain
     'It's raining'

(2) Hari udah malam
     day PFCT night
     'It's already night'

(3) Hari mau raya
     day want great
     'The great (holiday) is approaching' [referring to Idul Fitri]

(4) Hari jam tiga
     day hour three
     'It's three o'clock'

I would take issue, however, with the characterization of 'hari' in  
the above examples as *subject*.  Riau Indonesian doesn't have  
well-defined subjects, and in particular, in the above examples,  
'hari' doesn't display any unusual grammatical properties of the kind  
that one might wish to associate with subjects.  For example, in the  
above examples, word order is free, and 'hari' has the additional  
option of occuring after the meteorological (or other) predicate.


p.k.eriksen at ILN.UIO.NO wrote:
>  Dear colleagues,
>     I am currently doing research on expletive subjects, and in connection
> to that I am very interested in languages where meteorological predicates
> ("to rain", "to blow", "to be cold/warm", etc.) require, or at least often
> occur with a subject meaning "world", "place", "surroundings", "sky", etc,
> or which in other ways somehow refers to the locational/geographical
> background of the weather phenomena (or even to a temporal background,
> like "day") .
>     Givón (in "Syntax Vol. I", 2001, p. 119) mentions that "the world" is
> used as the dummy subject for meteorological predicates in some
> languages across the globe, and gives an example from Palestinian
> Arabic (where the subject is "dunya" ("world")).
>     Apart from this observation, I have found a number of examples in
> different grammars:
>     - Nikolaeva & Tolskaya ("A Grammar of Udihe", 2001) shows that in the
> Tungusic language Udihe a noun meaning "place outside" or "world" may be
> used as the dummy subject for a number of meteorological predicates
> (though not by all).
>     - Watters ("A Grammar of Kham", 2002) shows that in the Himalayish
> language Kham a noun meaning "sky" is the meteorological dummy
> subject.
>     - Keenan ("Remarkable Subjects in Malagasy" in Li (ed.) "Subject and
> Topic", 1976) mentions that in Malagasy meteorological predicates
> normally take a word meaning "day" as their subject.
>     - Næss (p.c.) has told me that in Äiwoo (possibly Austronesian,
> Eastern Solomon Islands) a word most often translated as "surroundings" is
> found as a subject for meteorological predicates, and that the
> neighbouring Polynesian language Vaeakau-Taumako similarly employs a word
> meaning "land".
>    Still, it is hard to find examples of this phenomenon, mostly because
> many grammars don't even address the issue of expletive subjects and/or
> the structure of meteorological sentences. Consequenty I would be very
> happy for any other example you can give me, of languages with this type
> of phenomenon.
>    Many thanks in advance,
>    Pål Eriksen

David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321
Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/

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