The most persuasive and clearest argument I’ve found for the claim that Tagalog lacks a subject is Paz Buenaventura Naylor’s in her contribution to SUBJECT, VOICE AND ERGATIVITY (ed. Bennett, Bynon, Hewitt). The majority so far of the posts in this blog have been attempts to wrap my head around this argument and to state the argument in my own words; I am placing this set of arguments in the category ‘Wrapping My Mind Around The Argument That Tagalog Lacks A Subject.’ In trying to gain a maximal grasp on this argument, I’ve learned a tiny bit of linguistics; but any illusion I may have produced (not likely anyway) of having any authoritative voice at all on the subject is just that, an illusion. I am writing to learn, not to force-feed the world from my <this is meant ironically>vast store of knowledge</this is meant ironically>.
What follows is Naylor’s argument in a nutshell. Further posts will be going into the details and articulating some disagreements. I reserve the right to go back to her article and find out I have horribly misrepresented her position.
1) A verb is a relation whose relata are (in the case of 2-place relations) subject and direct object and (in the case of 3-place relations) subject, direct object, and indirect object. Conversely, a subject and object (direct and indirect) are always relata in a verb.
2) Tagalog doesn’t have verbs. What look like verbs are really something else: They are names of actions rather than syntactical verbs. We know that Tagalog doesn’t have verbs because ‘ng‘ is always a genitive.
3) Since Tagalog doesn’t have verbs, and since subjects and objects are relata of those relations that are verbs, Tagalog does not have subjects. (Neither does it have objects, direct or indirect.)
4) This should be enough to show that Tagalog does not have a subject, but one can’t resist pounding in an additional nail in the coffin by pointing out the claims about syntax made by linguists such as Paul Kroeger are just wrong.
Many of my further posts in the blog will be elaborations on and criticisms of the above outline of an argument.
I am in Subic Bay, in the Philippines. I am inside a beach house, whose unglassed (but protected by iron bars) windows open out to the beach on Subic bay. I am spending a pleasant (( but also, for reasons I won’t go into here, anxiety-filled (and yes, the two can go together) ) afternoon working through a sliver of a LEARN FILIPINO book. I hear the gentle lapping of the waves onto the beach. The light outside is dazzling, brilliant; inside I am in its afterglow. Quite a few cats and kittens prowl about, not exactly starved but also clearly not completely confident they know where their next meal is coming from.
“Do Tagalog sentences have subjects?” the book’s author asks in a footnote. “Some linguists say yes, others say no.” A bit more accurately, the question should be “Does Tagalog have a subject construction at all, in any sentence,” since many perfectly functional and common Tagalog sentences plainly lack a subject construction, e.g., kaka logoff ko lang sa trabaho, and umuulan.
Later, the author does insist that Tagalog does have a subject. His insistence struck me (maybe unfairly) as having a bit of a tone of ‘Now shut up! I am not going to discuss this any further!”
Kakaiba ang Tagalog! What strange language is this whose weirdness makes some authorities think it lacks a subject? What is a subject anyway?
So as part of my effort to learn Tagalog, I started to try to wrap my mind around the controversy. Many of the posts here are attempts to learn about the controversy (‘does Tagalog have a subject construction?’) by writing about it.
In Chicago, I worked for a time at a tiny company that provided direct mail and letter-shop services. One day a young, blond man in his late teens or early 20s delivered a package. “What do you guys do?” he asked.
“We make sure the junk mail gets to your house,” I replied.
“Really!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I didn’t know there were people who did that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” he said with an intonation expressed a naive wonderment the memory of which will abide in me for a long time. His enthusiasm at discovering heretofore hidden aspects of his world was endearing.
My reaction to Tagalog is much the same, laden with much the same emotional tone of unending wonderment: I never knew you could construct a language this way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!