LINGUIST List 14.1003

Fri Apr 4 2003

Diss: Syntax: Quinn "The distribution of..."

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  1. heidi.quinn, Syntax: Quinn "The distribution of pronoun case forms in English"

Message 1: Syntax: Quinn "The distribution of pronoun case forms in English"

Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2003 02:37:29 +0000
From: heidi.quinn <heidi.quinncanterbury.ac.nz>
Subject: Syntax: Quinn "The distribution of pronoun case forms in English"


Institution: University of Canterbury
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: Heidi Quinn 

Dissertation Title: 

The distribution of pronoun case forms in English

Linguistic Field: Syntax 

Subject Language: English (code: ENG )

Dissertation Director 1: Kate Kearns


Dissertation Abstract: 

This thesis investigates the influence of linguistic factors on the
distribution of pronoun case forms in Modern English and argues that
the alternation between nominative and objective pronoun forms is a
surface phenomenon best captured in a probabilistic constraint-based
approach, where constraints are weighted and the combined weight of
constraint violations determines the probability of occurrence of a
particular variant.

I propose that the distribution of both weak and strong
pronoun forms in English is affected by the interaction of two
structural case constraints: Argument Case, which restricts the overt
case form of structural arguments of a predicate; and Positional Case,
which constrains the form of pronouns that appear as the specifier of
an agreement-related functional head at Spell-Out. Pronouns that
occupy surface positions not covered by the Positional Case constraint
are further influenced by a Default Case constraint that calls for
objective pronoun forms.

A survey of data reported in existing studies suggests that all
instances of pronoun case variation that cannot be given a purely
case-based account occur in strong pronoun contexts. The consistent
nominative/objective case distinction found with weak pronouns is due
to their syntactic deficiency and the increasing importance of
Positional Case in English. Unlike strong pronouns, weak pronouns
must be licensed by an agreement-related functional head at Spell-Out,
which means that they will generally be subject to the Positional Case
constraint as well as the Argument Case constraint. Strong pronouns,
on the other hand, tend to occur in positions not covered by
Positional Case, which leaves them open to other influences.

I present results from a written survey of 90 speakers of English,
which indicate that strong pronoun forms no longer merely identify the
structural case of a pronoun, but also code its position within a
syntactic construction, and identify its morphosyntactic status as a
strong pronoun. These additional functions of strong pronoun forms
are captured in two Relative Positional Coding constraints and a set
of Invariant Strong Form constraints.

Variation occurs when the demands of the case constraints clash with
the requirements of Relative Positional Coding and the tendency
towards invariant strong pronoun forms.

The case trends reported in existing studies suggest that Relative
Positional Coding and the tendency towards invariant forms affects not
only personal pronouns but also wh-pronouns. For personal pronouns,
the emerging invariant forms are the objectives _me_, _him_, _her_,
_us_, _them_, but for wh-pronouns, the emerging invariant forms are
the nominatives _who_ and _whoever_. As a result, the Invariant
wh-form constraints clash with the three case constraints in different
environments that the remaining Invariant Strong Form constraints.

Discrepancies between the grouping of pronoun forms associated with
structural case and the grouping of pronoun forms associated with
Relative Positional Coding are largely responsible for the
distributional differences between strong 1sg (I/me) and non-1sg forms
(he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them, who/whom). For the purposes of
structural case, _I_ groups with the non-1sg nominatives _he_, _she_,
_we_, _they_, _who_, and _me_ groups with the non-1sg objectives
_him_, _her_, _us_, _them_, _whom_. For Relative Positional Coding,
on the other hand, _I_ patterns with _him_, _her_, _us_, _them_,
_whom_, and _me_ patterns with _he_, _she_, _we_, _they_, _who_.

All of the trends identified in this study point to an increasing
influence of surface position on pronoun case choice, which can be
seen as a correlate of the shift from morphological to positional
licensing at the end of the Middle English period.
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