LINGUIST List 11.656

Wed Mar 22 2000

Qs: Quotations/US linguists, Null focused item?

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  1. Gilles Bernard, Quotations from US linguists
  2. Frederick Newmeyer, Can a focused item be null?

Message 1: Quotations from US linguists

Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2000 10:39:45 +0100
From: Gilles Bernard <>
Subject: Quotations from US linguists

Getting older, I remember quotations without being able to remember
their authors. So if you can help me with these two quotations (as I
remember them) from US linguists :

- let us burn our phonetic boats
- the syntax of one era often becomes the morphology of a later era

The first quotation in young Hockett's time (was it Pike? Hockett?
anyway, by an extremist in the First Phonemic War -- before SPE), the
second quotation, as I seem to recollect, being in the sixties. 
Or am I wrong?

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Message 2: Can a focused item be null?

Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2000 13:02:25 -0800 (PST)
From: Frederick Newmeyer <>
Subject: Can a focused item be null?

Normally (and for obvious reasons) an element in focus cannot be null,
even in a language that freely allows null arguments. If we speak a
null subject language and ask:

Who broke the dish?

The following reply is not very helpful:

____ broke the dish.

But notice that in English, the following exchange is not far-fetched:

Q: Who broke the dish?
A: You know who!

In other words, the speaker of the question is asked to pragmatically
retrieve the focus.

What I am looking for is a null subject language in which the following is
a conceivable exchange:

Q; Who broke the dish?
A: ____ broke the dish. (INTERPRETATION: 'You know who broke the dish!')

Does anybody know if such a language exists? Or any other situation in
which a (contrastively) focused element can be null?


- fritz newmeyer
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