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Journal Article

Where to place inaccessible subjects in Dutch: The role of definiteness and animacy

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Vogels, J., & Van Bergen, G. (2017). Where to place inaccessible subjects in Dutch: The role of definiteness and animacy. Corpus linguistics and linguistic theory, 13(2), 369-398. doi:10.1515/cllt-2013-0021.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0024-4ADB-D
Cross-linguistically, both subjects and topical information tend to be placed at the beginning of a sentence. Subjects are generally highly topical, causing both tendencies to converge on the same word order. However, subjects that lack prototypical topic properties may give rise to an incongruence between the preference to start a sentence with the subject and the preference to start a sentence with the most accessible information. We present a corpus study in which we investigate in what syntactic position (preverbal or postverbal) such low-accessible subjects are typically found in Dutch natural language. We examine the effects of both discourse accessibility (definiteness) and inherent accessibility (animacy). Our results show that definiteness and animacy interact in determining subject position in Dutch. Non-referential (bare) subjects are less likely to occur in preverbal position than definite subjects, and this tendency is reinforced when the subject is inanimate. This suggests that these two properties that make the subject less accessible together can ‘gang up’ against the subject first preference. The results support a probabilistic multifactorial account of syntactic variation.