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What is a surface Subject?

asked 2015-03-19 13:05:32 -0500

anonymous user



I was reading a book about verbals and I encountered this example:

Everyone wanted Jennifer to be the leader of the group.

The writer said that ''the surface subject of the infinitive phrase could also be regarded as object of the verb wanted''.

What does surface subject mean and could you give me more examples for it?

Thank you


(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

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answered 2015-03-21 22:27:40 -0500

Norvin Richards gravatar image

As a syntactician, I generally use the phrase "surface subject" to refer to something that is the subject of its clause, as the clause is actually pronounced. In my kind of syntax, we posit lots of cases in which subjects begin their lives as something else; the passive voice, for example, is often analyzed as having subjects which start out as objects (for example, in a sentence like "The bread was eaten", "the bread" starts off as the object of 'eaten', and then becomes the subject). So a 'surface subject' might start off as a subject, or might not.

The writer may not be using the phrase exactly that way; I assume the writer is referring to 'Jennifer', and claiming that this is simultaneously the subject of the embedded clause and the object of the higher clause. I'm not sure I agree with that analysis, but that's how I'd read that passage.

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Asked: 2015-03-19 13:05:32 -0500

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Last updated: Mar 21 '15