The Subject in the Amazon - Grammatical relations in indigenous Amazonian languages


In linguistic research, the term ”subject” is often thrown around as an intuitive concept. Principled definitions exist, but they are anything but unanimous. Hosted by Ghent University, this Rubicon project will investigate the complexities of the notion of “subject” through the particular lens of Amazonian languages. First, I will identify a series of subjecthood diagnostics that have proven reliable when faced with European languages, as in the work of Barðdal (2006, 2018). Second, I will apply these to the existing accounts in descriptions of Amazonian languages. This will establish the reliability of subjecthood diagnostics in an Amazonian context, from a comparative perspective. Third, I will test the subjecthood diagnostics during fieldwork with some Amazonian languages. By doing so, the phenomena will be pushed and tested in a much deeper level than relying on existing accounts that were not collected with such analysis in mind. Finally, I will put together an inventory of diagnostics for subjecthood that will throw light on the issue of whether the notion of subject is independently justified, and whether it is theoretically useful. The results will be of importance to theoretical linguists of all frameworks, to typologists, and to fieldworkers with an Amazonian focus.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. B. Bardagil

Affiliated with

Berkeley University


01/06/2020 to 31/05/2021