The nominative-to-accusative shift in Japanese: diachronic and synchronic considerations

Satoshi Nambu, David Y. Oshima, Shin-ichiro Sano

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Some Japanese predicates allow their object to be marked either with the accusative particle o, the canonical marker of an object, or with the nominative particle ga, the canonical marker of a subject. This work reports and discusses the results of corpus-based surveys on the patterns and recent trends in nominative-marking on objects. It will be demonstrated: (i) that there has been an increase in the proportion of accusative-marking over nominative-marking in recent times, (ii) that accusative-marking is more likely to be chosen in certain types of subordinate clauses than in matrix clauses, and (iii) that at least with some types of predicates, accusative-marking on the object is more likely when its referent is animate rather than inanimate. It will be argued that the effects of clause type and animacy have to do with the functional motivation to mitigate processing load and the risk of misinterpretation incurred by nominative-marking on objects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-191
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Japanese Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Ambiguity avoidance
  • Corpus study
  • Language change
  • Nominative object

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