LINGUIST List 4.112

Wed 17 Feb 1993

Disc: Null-Subject Languages

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  1. Maria Vilkuna, 4.109 Qs: Typology, Grammar Engineering, Null Subj., Word Lists

Message 1: 4.109 Qs: Typology, Grammar Engineering, Null Subj., Word Lists

Date: Wed, 17 Feb 93 19:35:08 +04.109 Qs: Typology, Grammar Engineering, Null Subj., Word Lists
From: Maria Vilkuna <mvilkunaling.helsinki.fi>
Subject: 4.109 Qs: Typology, Grammar Engineering, Null Subj., Word Lists


I'd like t thank Mike Maxwell for his query

> Can I broaden the query? What languages of the world are NOT null
> subject languages? I have the impression it's a distinct minority,
> perhaps even a small fraction of the world's languages.

and suggest a further broadening: how much does a language have to
do to "be" a null subject language?

Take Finnish, for example. (1) The general wisdom is that Finnish
drops (unstressed) 1st and 2nd person subjects, but not 3rd person
ones. And indeed, a text such as "The President is in Japan. Will
return tomorrow." is quite unimaginable in expository prose,
newspapers or the like. Correspondingly, "I" or "you" is not
typically mentioned in such contexts. (2) It is also widely known that
speakers very rarely drop any type of personal pronoun in colloquial,
informal style, although things may differ dialectally here. (3)
However, both colloquial speech and literary prose provide ample
evidence of 3rd person pro-drop like the above example in principle,
to achieve various effects, such as "folksy" style, mocking, or
whatever - always as a minority pattern. Also, many dialects favor a
mixed system in the plural: plural 3rd person pronoun subjects
together with singular 3rd person verbs alternate with plural 3rd
person agreement forms without pronoun.

So, "is" Finnish a null-subject language? (Speaking a language like
this, I have always felt a reluctance to see pro-drop as a "deep"
property with far-reaching repercussions.) And a more serious
question: are there many languages that show similar variation?

Maria Vilkuna

mvilkunaling.Helsinki.FI
Department of General Linguistics
PL 4
SF-00014 University of Helsinki
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