LINGUIST List 4.169

Wed 10 Mar 1993

Disc: Pro-drop

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Becky Passonneau, 4.160 Pro-drop
  2. Swann Philip, 4.161 Pro-Drop
  3. Bob Frank, Re: 4.160 Pro-drop
  4. Mike McHale, Pro-drop
  5. "CONNOLLY LEO A", RE: 4.161 Pro-Drop
  6. "CONNOLLY LEO A", RE: 4.160 Pro-drop

Message 1: 4.160 Pro-drop

Date: Mon, 8 Mar 93 11:19:36 EST4.160 Pro-drop
From: Becky Passonneau <>
Subject: 4.160 Pro-drop

I have a request for information regarding the types of examples being
discussed regarding subjectless or subject+less (where the + means
possibly plus a non-modal aux verb) utterances in AmENg. First, I
agree that the phenomenon is restricted to what Mike Maxwell referred
to as root clauses, but is not restricted to first person subjects.
I'm pursuing the question of a functional explanation for the
variation found in oral discourse between explicit definite pronoun
subjects and zero subjects in such clauses. Presumably, a functional
account would speak to the issue of historical change, and whether
English might be an incipient pro-dorp language, but I don't have any
insights on that question.

As I said, it is not restrcted to first person. Third person subjects
are frequently omitted; in my corpus, consisting of oral narratives,
the zeroed subjects are (proportionally) more often third person than
first person. In the case of the third person but not the first
person, the zero subject pronoun must be coreferential with the
subject of the preceding root clause. One consequence is that the
clause with a zero subject thereby has an explicit surface feature
signalling a direct link to the preceding utterance. The phenomoenon
occurs in clauses introduced by sentence coordinating conjunctions
like 'but' and 'and', but not so-called conjunctions like 'therefore'
and 'so'. The variation cannot be explained in terms of the
informational constraints, i.e., explicit pronouns occur where a zero
would be perfectly comprehensible. The only detailed discussion I'm
aware of is in Marslen-Wilson,Levy,&Tyler, 1982, 'Producing Interpretable
Discourse: The Establishment and Maintenance of Reference'; they link
the alternation to aspectual differences in the clauses, and to the
initiation versus continuation of a new action. I would appreciate
any additional bibliographic sources for specific pragmatic conditions
on, or consequences of, the use of an explicit pronoun when it is not
necessary in the context.
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Message 2: 4.161 Pro-Drop

Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1993 17:52:22 +4.161 Pro-Drop
From: Swann Philip <>
Subject: 4.161 Pro-Drop

My naive theory to explain the difference between pro-drop
in English and Italian is as follows. In English the verb
person marking is much reduced, so the pronoun is often
needed to select between different persons. In Italian,
person marking is almost complete and therefore the pronoun
is often not necessary. In English, the pronoun may be dropped
where context (or auxiliaries) make the subject clear
(in talking to yourself, for example). This interaction
between semantics and morphology leads to the observed
distribution in the two languages.

It's ridiculous to suggest that children "assume" English is
pro-drop because they don't use pronouns during the 1-2
word periods. You might as well argue that they don't use
counter-factual conditional because they assume that English
can't express them!

Philip Swann
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Message 3: Re: 4.160 Pro-drop

Date: Mon, 08 Mar 93 11:14:34 -0Re: 4.160 Pro-drop
From: Bob Frank <>
Subject: Re: 4.160 Pro-drop

Leo Connolly <> replies to my mention of
German expletive drop:

>Come, come! In German these expletives have no subject properties whatsoever,
>since preverbal position can't possibly be one, and that's their only claim to
>the title. They serve to fill a hole before a second-place verb. No hole,
>either because the gap is filled or because the verb is elsewhere, then no
>_es_. What the hell does prodrop have to do with it?

This just begs this question. What do you mean by "fill a hole before
a second place verb"? Why doesn't this kind of thing happen in
English? Doesn't English have second-place verbs with holes that need
filling too? Why are sentences like the following out?

 It is important *(for it) to appear that Senators are sincere.
 Never has *(there) been such a mess in here.

If, as in GB theory, we analyze German expletive deletion as an
instance of pro-drop, i.e. as the occurrence of a particular empty
element `pro', at the very least we are in the position where we can
ask the questions of why English does not allow such subjects, and why
this element cannot be referential in German, but can in Italian, say.
However, by relegating our discussion to holes that need filling, it
seems unlikely that we'll make progress on the really interesting
questions of cross-linguistic diversity.
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Message 4: Pro-drop

Date: Mon, 8 Mar 93 13:28:54 -05Pro-drop
From: Mike McHale <mchaleAI.RL.AF.MIL>
Subject: Pro-drop

A couple of years ago, when I was still taking courses, one of my professors
told me that some speakers of English in South or SouthEast Asia where using
a dialect of English that was decidedly pro-drop. Has anyone looked at
pro-drop in any of the Englishes other than SAE?

Mike Mc Hale Email:
Rome Laboratory
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Message 5: RE: 4.161 Pro-Drop

Date: 9 Mar 93 10:27:00 CST
Subject: RE: 4.161 Pro-Drop has alleged that the dative _ihm_ in the
following German sentence controls the reflexive _sich_.

 Es faellt ihm schwer, sich zu konzentrieren.
 'It is difficult for him to concentrate [himself].

By that logic, the following sentence has a reflexive with no

 Es ist manchmal schwierig, sich zu konzentrieren.
 'It is sometimes difficult to concentrate [oneself].'

The truth is that the reflexive is controlled by what would have been
the subject of _konzentrieren_ if German infinitives usually had such

 Ich kann mich nicht konzentrieren.
 'I can't concentrate [myself].'
 Man kann sich manchmal nicht konzentrieren.
 'Sometimes one can't concentrate [oneself].'

In the main, the subjects of infinitives are simply deleted, or zeroed
out, or whatever one wants to say. It's not particularly a matter of
equi or equivalent, as my example shows. Nor is raising involved,
since _schwer fallen_ has a mandatory dative experiencer even with an
NP subject.

 Deutsch faellt mir/*0 schwer.
 'German is difficult for me.'

There is a constraint that the would-be subject of an infinitive
complement must be coreferential with the dative-experincer of _schwer
fallen_. Thus we find.

 Es faellt mir schwer, mich zu konzentrieren.
 'It's hard for me to concentrate myself.'

 *Es faellt mir schwer, sich zu konzentrieren.

But since the deletion of subjects of infinitives is not equi, and
raising has demonstrably not applied, we cannot say that the dative
with _schwer fallen_ controls a reflexive in the infinitival

Besides, control of reflexivization by dative NPs in languages that
actually have such a thing, such as Icelandic, applies even within the
same clause, *not* just between matrix clause and complement. Even if
there were any control in the German example, we could not claim that
it was by a dative "subject".

That having been said, I'll now undermine my own position. Siegmund
Freud could have said, though probably only in a figurative sense: "By
curing her psychosis, I gave her to herself/*her." The German
equivalent would have to be:

 Indem ich ihre Psychose heilte, schenkte ich ihr sich selbst.

Here dative _ihr_ would have to control reflexive _sich selbst_ -- but
the example is, I think, extremely dubious, and so may not be a
problem. Anyway, the dative controller is would not be a subject.

--Leo Connolly
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Message 6: RE: 4.160 Pro-drop

Date: 8 Mar 93 09:24:00 CST
Subject: RE: 4.160 Pro-drop

Were older Germanic languages pro-drop? Certainly Old High German was,
and I think Old English. If memory serves, Old Nores prose is not,
but I think prodrop in poetry is fairly common.

Note: I *know* about Old High German; the rest is recollection.

--Leo Connolly
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