Subject and Object

To define rules of word-order (p. 34) we need reference points. Two reference points in what has gone before have been subject and object. The use of these terms calls for comment to forestall a charge of inconsistency. Some people still cherish the delusion that subject and object are categories of semantic relations in contradistinction to categories of flexional change. For instance, Esperantists¹ tell us that we need an accusative terminal to distinguish the object, as if a generic conception of object could arise in a language free from case-flexion or case-postpositions like those of Japanese. This is a legacy of classical misconceptions concerning the semantic credentials of grammatical habits of particular— more especially Aryan— speech-communities. What state we can legitimately predicate as a property of a given subject and what process can have a given substantive as its proper agent or as its rightful goal depend on the particular state or process under discussion. In other words, what we call subject and what we call object depend on the meaning of the particular verb with which two given substantives (or their pronoun substitutes) labelled as such are associated. The highest common factor of semantic content in appropriate subjects of all verbs is zero; and the same is true of all objects of all verbs.

Partisans assert that the flexions of Esperanto permit members of different speech-communities to communicate without departure from native word-order. It is difficult to reconcile this pretension with the difficulties of translating a long German sentence when the meaning of the words is apparent. German should be an easy language for an

¹ The resistance some people put up against lucid discussion concerning the semantic credentials of nineteenth-century grammatical "rules" is hardly surprising, when we recall how many generations of schoolboys have been caned into acquiescence with their patent absurdities. It is a little humiliating for people past forty to discover in later life that the rigours of the school climate have left them with a weakened constitution. Modern educational practice has abandoned the pretence that the grammar of the grammar school has much relevance to English in its present form, still less to international syntax; and Esperantists are now among the last supporters of pedagogic superstitions which still flourished in the naughty 'nineties.