LINGUIST List 4.121

Tue 23 Feb 1993

Disc: Pro-drop

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Swann Philip, 4.118 Pro-drop, Rarity, Null-subject
  2. R. Moorcroft, -0500
  3. , Null-Space Subjects
  4. Glenn Ayres - CDI San German, Pro-drop

Message 1: 4.118 Pro-drop, Rarity, Null-subject

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1993 14:59:58 4.118 Pro-drop, Rarity, Null-subject
From: Swann Philip <>
Subject: 4.118 Pro-drop, Rarity, Null-subject

It seems to me that pro-drop is pretty common in English, especially
in talking to one's self. I often hear myself think stuff like "got to
remember to do that" "can't find x" (Bush's monologues in Doonesbury
had lots of pro-drop if I remember right). And of course early child
English is predominantly pro-drop (not to mention pub arguments). Why
is there so much effort put into this "parameter" - aren't there any
better ones around?

Philip Swann
University of Geneva
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Message 2: -0500

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1993 14:59:42 -0500
From: R. Moorcroft <>
Subject: -0500

Even Italian is semi pro-drop to a small extent. Pronominal subjects
are obligatory in the present subjunctive singular, probably because
the endings for all three forms are identical.
Some German dialects are also pro-drop to a limited extent, which is
apparently determined by whether or not the inflection on the verb
identifies the subject unambiguously.
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Message 3: Null-Space Subjects

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 93 16:30:48 ESNull-Space Subjects
From: <>
Subject: Null-Space Subjects

 In Linguist 4-118, Yehuda N. Falk <>

 > By the way, there is always the problem of the non-overt subject
 > of imperatives, even in English, which is the paradigm case of a
 > non-null-subject language.

 Well, folks, there are always a few other problems, too. In particular,
 here are some dandies that I've harvested from a dissertation that I had
 the honor of directing:

 "Shouldn't Ignore These Strings:
 A Study of Conversational Deletion"
 by Randolph H. Thrasher Jr.
 (Ph.D. 1974, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

 which suggests that perhaps English is not quite such a paradigm
 paragon as it might seem.

 Here are some examples from Chapter 1:
 [p.5; numbering as in original, with chapter prefix]
 (1.16) Gotta go now.
 (1.17) See you next Tuesday.
 (1.18) Too bad about old Charlie.
 (1.19) No need to get upset about it.
 (1.20) Been in Ann Arbor long?
 (1.21) Ever get a chance to use your Dogrib?
 (1.22) Ever get to Japan, look me up.
 (1.23) Good thing we didn't run into anybody we know.
 (1.24) Last person I expected to meet was John.
 (1.25) Wife wants to go to the mountains this year.

 The phenomenon can be viewed as erosion of the beginning of sentences,
 deleting (some, but not all) articles, dummies, auxiliaries,
 possessives, conditional 'if', and - most relevantly for this
 discussion - subject pronouns. But it only erodes up to a point, and
 only in some cases.

 "Whatever is exposed (in sentence initial position) can be swept
 away. If erosion of the first element exposes another vulnerable
 element, this too may be eroded. The process continues until a
 hard (non-vulnerable) element is encountered." [p.9]

 Schmerling first noted this phenomenon in a paper in CLS 9, and gave
 the following example [her (36); cited p.58 in Thrasher]:

 (3.1) Cut {myself/yourself/himself/ourselves/yourselves/themselves}

 Thrasher adds another example, lest this be taken as a reflexive
 phenomenon [p.59]:

 (3.2) Can't do it, can {I/you/he/she/they/we}?

 He proposes that any exposed pronoun is vulnerable if it is recoverable
 from later in the sentence. But there are other cases, as well. In
 general, exposed first-person subjects are vulnerable in statements,
 and second-person in questions. Thus, (3.12) means (3.13), but *not*
 the equally plausible (3.14) [p.61]:

 (3.12) Need a haircut?
 (3.13) Do you need a haircut?
 (3.14) Do I need a haircut?

 even though (3.12) *without* interrogative intonation *is* equivalent
 to (3.14).

 There are apparent exceptions to this; (3.25) [p.63]

 (3.25) (You) Should talk that over with Bill.

 contrasts with the equally good (3.28).

 (3.28) (I) Should talk that over with Bill.

 As well as [p.64]:

 (3.33) Ought to watch out for pedestrians.
 (3.34) Can't smoke in here.

 Thrasher's explanation of these is that in utterances intended to count
 as imperatives or requests (he uses Georgia Green's term "impositives"),
 second-person is vulnerable, just as in interrogatives, and for the
 same reasons. This puts us in the same ballpark with "the non-overt
 subject of imperatives" mentioned above, though it now appears we are
 playing a much more complex ball game here; clearly, more is involved
 than syntax.

 And there are of course the inevitable problems with modals [pp.75,77]:

 (3.91) (I/You) Must have left it at home.
 (3.94) (I/You) Probably dropped it on the way.
 (3.101) (I/You) May/Might win the jackpot. Who knows?

 Enough to keep us busy, I imagine. Enjoy.

 -John Lawler (
 Linguistics, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
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Message 4: Pro-drop

Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1993 09:32:26 Pro-drop
From: Glenn Ayres - CDI San German <>
Subject: Pro-drop

Ixil is a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala which seems to be somewhat
similar to Finnish in terms of subject pronoun use. First and second
person pronouns are generally dropped, except in copulative sentences
where there is no verb and no agreement. Third person animate pronouns
are almost never dropped in main clauses, though they are generally
dropped in subordinate clauses if coreferential with an element of a
higher clause. For some classes of inanimate object, there is no
pronoun (though in some dialects there is a general pronoun which can
be used to refer to any thing disrespectfully). If such an item is the
subject of a sentence (or object, for that matter), it may be referred
to by a full noun phrase or a demonstrative, or there may be nothing at
all in subject position. However, it is a bit strange to refer to this
as pro-drop, since there is no pronoun which could be used.
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