LINGUIST List 4.159

Fri 05 Mar 1993

Disc: Pro-drop

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Bob Frank, Re: 4.154 Pro-drop
  2. RichardHudson50, Pro Drop
  3. R. Moorcroft, 4.154 Pro-drop
  4. Esa Itkonen, Pro-drop
  5. , pro-drop

Message 1: Re: 4.154 Pro-drop

Date: Thu, 04 Mar 93 16:03:14 -0Re: 4.154 Pro-drop
From: Bob Frank <>
Subject: Re: 4.154 Pro-drop

Heidi <hharleyAthena.MIT.EDU> speculates on the existence of a
correlation between languages which allow dative subjects and those
that allow pro drop. A counter-example that springs to mind is
Icelandic which does not, as far as I know, allow pro-drop like that
in Italian or Japanese (but see below), but emphatically does allow
dative subjects.

I wonder whether this discussion couldn't benefit a bit from what
Alexis Manaster-Ramer calls for: a precise definition of pro-drop. In
the course of this discussion, German has been branded a non-pro-drop
language. But German indeed tolerates, and in fact requires, the
"deletion" of expletive subjects, such as occur in impersonal passives
and `there-insertion' contexts:

 Wurde (*es) gelacht im Rathskeller?
 Was there laughed in rathskeller

 Standen (*es) voriges Jahr noch zwei B\"aume im Garten?
 Stood there last year still 2 trees in the garden

The overt expletive is possible when in initial position of a matrix
clause, but the point remains that so-called "non-referential
pro-drop" is possible in certain contexts. For discussion, see den
Besten (1983) from which these examples are taken.

Hebrew is another interesting case which tolerates pro-drop only in
the past and future tenses, and even there, it's only possible in the
case of first and second person subjects (in matrix clauses). In
embedded clauses, third person subjects in past and future allow it.

None of this is new, of course. See the papers in Jaeggli and Safir
(1989) for relevant discussion. The point is simply that we've got to
refine the scope of our discussion. It's unlikely that there's much
meaningful to say about the entire class of languages which allow
null-subjects of some kind. English "pro-drop" is quite different
from that of Italian, which is in turn different from that of German
and Hebrew. Only when we have truly isolated some particular
phenomenon with identifiable properties will be able to make any sort
of progress and any interesting and falsifiable claims, as Alexis
would have us do.

 Bob Frank
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Message 2: Pro Drop

Date: Thu, 04 Mar 93 21:33:22 +0Pro Drop
From: RichardHudson50 <>
Subject: Pro Drop

How about the following account of what we all seem to agree isn't
Pro-drop in English: it's all a matter of very low-level phonetics. We
just leave our vocal apparatus switched off until the planned words really
are worth saying. Thus we plan "Have you seen John around?", and have the
option of switching on the air supply at any point before the first `full'
word, "seen". Hence:
- the dropping is always utterance-initial; e.g. it can't happen after a
word like "but" or "so" - nor in a subordinate clause, as someone just
pointed out,
- words can be half-dropped; e.g. "Have" can come out as a more-or-less
articulated and audible [v] or [f], and likewise for every other segment
in the string, provided everything before it has been dropped.

Neither of these characteristics is at all like classic Pro-drop, of course.
Is the same possible in every language? I assume it is, but maybe not.

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
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Message 3: 4.154 Pro-drop

Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1993 10:01:16 -4.154 Pro-drop
From: R. Moorcroft <>
Subject: 4.154 Pro-drop

Icelandic allows nominative, accusative, genitive and dative subjects
and is not pro-drop. As in German sentence-initial subject pronouns
can be dropped in narratives.
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Message 4: Pro-drop

Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1993 17:54 EET Pro-drop
From: Esa Itkonen <>
Subject: Pro-drop

When evidence accumulates against one of his pet theories, David Pesetsky
writes (24-FEB-1993):
Now this is no way to win an argument. But is science in general, and
linguistics in particular, about winning or losing arguments? In an earlier
posting (17-FEB-1993) Pesetsky suggests that it is not, unless some general
(and presumably really important) claims are involved. But what does
*general* mean in the present context?

Let us consider an example which you are free to consider as fictitious. Let us
imagine that some people have upheld for years the position A, viz. that there
is an ontologico-cognitive motivation for the word-classes NOUN and VERB,
whereas others have upheld the position not-A, meaning more specifically that
NOUN and VERB are unmotivated, innate, purely formal categories. Let us further
imagine that the evidence for A finally becomes so overwhelming that is just
cannot be ignored any longer; and when the implications of A are spelled out,
it turns out that language is not innate, the mind is not modular, etc.

How will the proponents of not-A behave? As you might have guessed, they openly
reject not-A and endorse A, thus adhering to the standard scientific practice.
But suppose, just for the fun of it, that they behave differently: not only do
they conceal their change of mind, but they even claim to have always
maintained A. How should we diagnose their behavior? One solution would be to
assume that all the issues involved are still not general enough for them. But
a more plausible solution is that they hate so much losing an argument that
they do literally anything to hide the fact that they have lost one. And since
they are doing linguistics, linguistics is about winning or losing arguments,
after all.

Esa Itkonen
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Message 5: pro-drop

Date: Fri, 05 Mar 93 09:40 CST
From: <TB0NRN1NIU.bitnet>
Subject: pro-drop

German does have genuinely subjectless sentences like:
 Mich friert. Mir schwindelt. Mir ist kalt.
where an indefinite third person pronoun can appear:
 Mich friert es. Mir schwindelt es. Es ist mir kalt.
And there are subjectless passives like:
 Jetzt wird getanzt.
As late as the Eraly Modern period, English had subjectless
constructions with THINK, as in:
 Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.
and with PLEASE, as in:
 If you please,
which is fossilized in this form. In all this cases,
what's missing is the thrid person singular neuter ES or IT.
This feels quite different to me than the conscious avoidance
of the first person in written texts like:
 Am in the library. Will be back at noon.
I don't think we're done looking at this matter yet.
 Neal R Norrick tb0nrn1niu.bitnet
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