LINGUIST List 4.152

Thu 04 Mar 1993

Disc: Pro-Drop

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "CONNOLLY LEO A", RE: 4.150 Pro-Drop
  2. Alan Munn, Pro-drop
  3. Tom Cravens, Re: 4.150 Pro-Drop

Message 1: RE: 4.150 Pro-Drop

Date: 3 Mar 93 10:04:00 CST
Subject: RE: 4.150 Pro-Drop

Robert Westmoreland is correct in saying that alleged English prodrop
isn't really, since it includes the auxiliary under certain
circumstances (only questions, I think). Our treatment somewhat
resembles that of German, which is emphatically *not* prodrop. German
has rather progressive truncation, sometimes extending to a V2
auxiliary, but never to a V2 full verb. Examples:

 Er geht dann nach Hause. 'He'll go home then.'
 ==> Geht dann nach Hause.

 Er will ein Haus kaufen. 'He wants to buy a house.'
 ==> Ein Haus kaufen.

 Das weiss ich schon. 'I know that already.'
 ==> Weiss ich schon.
 *Das weiss schon.

The last sentence set, where the object _das_ 'that' is preposed,
permits deletion of the object but *not* of the subject _ich_. The
subject is deletable in the first two not because it is a subject, but
because it was preverbal. So German isn't prodrop in the usual sense of
the word.

Alleged counterexamples invariably involve the pronoun _du_ 'you
(singular)'. _Hast du_ 'have you' is phonetically one word, as are all
combinations of verb (auxiliary) + subject pronoun. The clitic pronouns
are quite frequently reduced to the point of vowel loss -- but only in
the case of _du_, where the /d/ is silent in any event (_Hast du_ is
realized as [hastu] and was formerly commonly spelled _hastu_) does
vowel loss lead to obliteration of the pronoun. Otherwise at least a
consonant remains. Examples:

 Hast du gehoert? 'have you heard?' (informal)
 ==> Hast gehoert?

 Haben Sie gehoert? 'Have you heard?' (formal)
 ==> Haben'S gehoert?

 Gehen wir! 'Let's go.'
 ==> Gehma. (dialectical)

The special status of _du_ is hardly surprising, since the original ending was -s, not -st. In Early Old High German we find forms
such as _habes thu_ 'have you' and, of course, _thu habes_ 'you have'.
Later we find _habestu_ and _du habest_. The same reanalysis of the
dental stop as part of the desinence occured in English as well, but
before the historical period; the oldest English already has -st (thu
haefst > thou hast), not -s.

Anyway, German isn't prodrop, and English doesn't seem to be either.

--Leo Connolly
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Message 2: Pro-drop

Date: Wed, 03 Mar 93 16:08:45 -0Pro-drop
From: Alan Munn <>
Subject: Pro-drop

To add to the observation that English 'pro drop' delete the Aux as
well as the pronoun (unlike pro drop in other languages) here are a
couple of other observations:

To those who think that English is pro-drop: can you cite any example
of pro drop in English embedded clauses? If not, why not? Secondly,
languages with pro drop generally *require* pro drop in bound variable
contexts (e.g. bound by a quantifier). Again, this is impossible in
English. How come?

Alan Munn <>
Dept. of Linguistics, UNC Chapel Hill
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Message 3: Re: 4.150 Pro-Drop

Date: Wed, 03 Mar 93 16:04 CST
From: Tom Cravens <>
Subject: Re: 4.150 Pro-Drop

Aux deletion is by no means necessary for the (pseudo-?)pro-drop of
AmE: "Bought a car yesterday. Broke down already. Takin' it back in
the mornin'. Darn well better give me my money back." 3 subjects, 4
subject shifts. Now, this IS clearly distinct from pro-drop as
normally conceived, agreed. But it seems that rather then sweep it
under the rug, we have to examine it. (Apologies--really!--if that's
an unjust accusation of sweeping bothersome bits under rugs. I saw
so much of it as a graduate student that I shall hallucinate it
for the rest of my days, I fear.)

Tom Cravens
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