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‘Hungering and Lusting for Women and Fleshly Delicacies’: Reconstructing Grammatical Relations for Proto-Germanic


  •  We are particularly indebted to Tonya Kim Dewey, Mirjam Fried, Elly van Gelderen, Spike Gildea, Paul Kay, Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, the editors and four anonymous reviewers of Transactions of the Philological Society, and the audiences in Naples/Capri (2010), Vilnius (2010), Regensburg (2010), Osaka (2011), Copenhagen (2011), Lund (2011), Naples (2011), Bergen (2011, 2012), and Reykjavík/Eyjafjallajökull (2012) for constructive comments and discussions on the topic of this article. We also thank Joel Wallenberg and Einar Freyr Sigurðsson for their assistance with extracting the word-order statistics presented in subsection

Jóhanna Barðdal Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies University of Bergen P.O. Box 7805 NO-5020 Bergen Norway Email:

Thórhallur Eythórsson Institute of Linguistics University of Iceland Árnagarði v/Suðurgötu IS-101 Reykjavík Iceland Email:


Syntactic reconstruction has long been virtually outlawed in historical-comparative research, more or less ever since Watkins’s influential works on the problems of reconstructing word order for Proto-Indo-European. Recently, through the emergence of Construction Grammar, where complex syntactic structures are regarded as form–function pairings, a resurgence of syntactic reconstruction is made possible, as complex syntactic structures become a legitimate object of the Comparative Method. Given the legitimacy of syntactic reconstruction, and hence the possible reconstruction of argument-structure constructions, a major question arises as to whether grammatical relations are also reconstructable for earlier undocumented language periods. We argue that if the constructions singling out grammatical relations can be reconstructed for a proto-branch, the grammatical relations following from these are also reconstructable for that proto-branch. In order to illustrate our methodology, we show how a reconstruction of the subject function in Proto-Germanic may be carried out, more specifically of oblique-subject predicates like ‘hunger’, ‘thirst’ and ‘lust’, based on the subject properties found in the earliest Germanic daughter languages.