"World" subjects of meteorological predicates

Prof. Dr. Elena Skribnik Elena.Skribnik at FINN.FAK12.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Mon Feb 18 13:44:24 UTC 2008

In response to Pål's query:

In Ob-Ugric languages Khanti (Ostyak) and Mansi (Vogul), spoken in West 
Siberia, meteorological verbs are normally used without a subject. Still, it 
is possible to use dummy subjects here: t¾r?m 'sky; Sky god; weather' or 
?at? 'day; sun'. The following examples are from Kazym Khanty:

(1a)      Iskat=as


'It got cold';

(1b)     T¾r?m iskat=as

            sky       get:cold=Past:3sg

            'It (lit. The weather) got cold'

(2a)      Patl=?s


'It got dark'

(2b)     ?at?=?w          patl=?s

            day=Poss1pl    get:dark=Past:3sg

            'It (lit.: our day) got dark';

With 'rain' it is possible to use the same stem as dummy subject:

(3a)      J?rt=??


'It rains'

(3b)     J?rt     j?rt=??

            rain      rain=Pres:3sg

'It (lit. rain) rains'.

[Solovar 1990: 22-24] lists 11 verbs of nature states: j¾l??mt= 'get cool 
(inside the house)', m?lk?t= 'get warm', iskat= 'get cold (in autumn)', 
tewan?='get calm', ?t?rm?= 'get clear and frosty', ji?at= 'get cool', patl?= 
'get dark', j?rt= 'rain', ?O??t= 'crack from heat', now?mat= 'dawn', 
rìm??mt= 'get dark (at dusk)'; the last three can be used only without a 

In Mansi the dummy subject is tor?m 'Sky-god, sky, weather', which is almost 
never used in everyday speech. With 'rain', 'snow', 'wind' the stem can be 
doubled; Rombandeeva (1979: 35) considers it a contrasting technique:

(1)       Teli      tujt     tujt=i,                         tui 
rakw    rakw=i

winter   snow    snow=Pres:3sg summer            rain      rains=Pres:3sg

'In winter it snows, in summer it rains (lit. snow snows, rain rains)'.

Note that meteorological sentences often contain a temporal expression or a 
localizer; the localizer kon 'outside' is frequent enough, though it is not 
analyzed as a dummy subject:

(2)       Kon                 saka    wot=i

            outside             very     wind=Pres:3sg

'It is windy outside' (lit. Outside very winds);

(3)       Kon                 ?ot?l=as

            outside             light=Past:3sg

'It dawned outside'.

More about 'surroundings': the Mongolic language Buryat has a construction 
'state of environment', consisting of an adjectival predicate and a 
localizer, the most frequent being gazaa 'outside', compare:

(1a)      Ger      soo      xüjten

            house   in         cold

            'It is cold in the house';

(1b)     Gazaa xüjten

            outside cold

            'It is cold (outside)'.

Some additional interesting facts: The antonym to gazaa is dosoo 'inside', 
and it is used in a similar construction, but metaphorically - with 
adjectives of emotional states:

(2)       Dosoo=ny         gansata         xüxüü              bolo=bo

            inside=Poss3sg at once            cheerful 

            'He became cheerful instantly'.

At least one Buryat grammar analyzes gazaa / dosoo as dummy subjects 
(Dorziev 2005:41).


Dorziev, D.-N.D. 2005: Münöönei Buryaad xelen. Sintaksis [Modern Buryat 
syntax]. Ulaan-Üde: "Belig" xeblel. (In Buryat)

Rombandeeva, E.I. 1979: Sintaksis mansijskogo (vogul'skogo) yazyka. [Mansi 
(Vogul) syntax.] Moscow: "Nauka".

Solovar, Valentina 1990: Predlozenie v xantiyskom yazyke [Khanty simple 
sentence]. Novosibirsk: Novosibirsk state university.

Best regards,

Elena Skribnik

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <p.k.eriksen at ILN.UIO.NO>
Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2008 1:25 PM
Subject: "World" subjects of meteorological predicates

> 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 

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