LINGUIST List 4.175

Thu 11 Mar 1993

Disc: Pro-drop

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  1. Joe Stemberger, Re: 4.161 Pro-Drop
  2. Anita Mittwoch, pro-drop
  3. David, pro-drop in Singlish

Message 1: Re: 4.161 Pro-Drop

Date: 08 Mar 1993 13:19:36 -0500Re: 4.161 Pro-Drop
From: Joe Stemberger <>
Subject: Re: 4.161 Pro-Drop

The question has come up about what to do with sentences like:

 Forgotten what that was about.

in which the auxiliary is absent, along with the subject. Several people
have pointed out that auxiliaries like CAN'T must be present. Several
others have suggested that it would be unreasonable to treat the absence of
the subject and the absence of the auxiliary as different phenomena.

I haven't taken a close look at this (and I'm sure that it HAS been studied
and published --- I recall a paper ca. 1980 in some obscure place like
GLOSSA), but it seems to me that the auxiliaries that can be eroded are
exactly those auxiliaries that are greatly reduced phonetically --- to a
single consonant, obligatorily (in non-emphatic contexts):

 am, is, are, has, have

 (note: I'm eating. / I AM eating. / but "I am eating" is weird.)

You CANNOT get rid of similar but less reduced auxiliaries, like WAS:

 Was eatin' an apple./*Eatin' an apple.

Further, the auxiliary doesn't always delete:

 'M eatin'.
 'M gonna go.

These last sentences are highly marked phonologically, in terms of syllable
and/or foot structure, depending on analysis.

When an overt subject is present, these reduced forms have something
phonologically substantive to attach to, and so they surface. When there is
no overt subject, they have no phonological entity to attach to, and are
phonologically difficult.

Why couldn't the deletion of the auxiliary be phonological, due to
difficulties caused by the lack of phonological substance in the subject?

It seems reasonable to me that the absence of the subject pronoun and the
absence of the auxiliary might be two different phenomena. Of course,
there's the chance that you can't account for all the data if they're
different phenomena. But that's an empirical question, not a conceptual

---joe stemberger
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Message 2: pro-drop

Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1993 17:41 ISTpro-drop
From: Anita Mittwoch <hcumahujivm1.bitnet>
Subject: pro-drop

Alan Munn asks:
>To those who think that English is pro-drop: can you cite any example of
> pro-drop in English embedded clauses?
Well I don't actually think that English is pro-drop, but English does have
what appear to be subjectless comparative clauses, such as
(1) As was stated by the previous speaker...
(2) There were fewer complaints than seemed likely at first.
Note that the addition of *it* makes these clauses ungrammatical. There seems
to have been an idea around that *as* and *than* function as subjects. Is
there any good reason for this?
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Message 3: pro-drop in Singlish

Date: Thu, 11 Mar 93 12:36:33 SSpro-drop in Singlish
From: David <ELLGILDNUSVM.bitnet>
Subject: pro-drop in Singlish

In response to Mike Mc Hale's query:

Yes indeed, in Singlish, the variety of English spoken in Singapore,
there are zero pronouns in subject and object position, very much
like in Chinese and Malay, which probably constitute the substratum
for Singlish.

David Gil
Linguistics Programme
National University of Singapore
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