Subject and Topic: Evidence From Kenyang


  • This paper was presented to the Philological Society Meeting at Trinity College, Oxford on 14 March 2009. We are grateful to members of that audience for their comments, and to two anonymous reviewers.

School of English
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN
United Kingdom


The Cameroonian language Kenyang provides evidence for the view that subjects evolve from topics, and subject agreement morphemes from pronominal subjects. Kenyang has fully grammaticalised clause-internal subjects, and a pre-verbal subject marker that licenses null subjects, as well as marking aspect. Clause-external topics may be involved in subject-like processes such as reflexivisation or control of a null embedded subject, but only through a chain of reference mediated by a co-referential subject. A comparison of topic and clause-initial contrastive focus enables a full characterisation of topic by revealing systematic structural differences. A broadly minimalist analysis provides a straightforward model of the findings.