LINGUIST List 4.194

Tue 16 Mar 1993

Disc: Pro-drop

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , 4.190 Pro-drop
  2. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 4.190 Pro-drop
  3. Ingo Plag, pro-drop and expletives
  4. "Fernando Aviles", pro-drop
  5. "david joseph kathman", object pro-drop

Message 1: 4.190 Pro-drop

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 93 19:33:48 ES4.190 Pro-drop
From: <>
Subject: 4.190 Pro-drop

I think the point Michael Starke is making is basically valid,
which is that it will not do confusing very different constructions
in different languages just because they involve some kind of
omission or absence of subjects. Much of the recent discussion
of "pro-drop" on this list seems to have paid no attention
to any kind of precise definition of "pro-drop", and I would
like once again to suggest that it might be useful if people
specified what they are talking about.

Recent postings by David Gil seem to take it for granted that
Tagalog has no such thing as subject, but it is important to
point out that this very much a controversial position, and
that (at least on some interpretations, for this too is not
precisely stated) Schachter's classic work does NOT deny the
existence of subjects in Tagalog. Also, see my article in
the latest Oceanic Linguistics offering a new and I hope
more or less precise argument for identifying subjects in
Tagalog (and in some other languages).
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Message 2: Re: 4.190 Pro-drop

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1993 19:41:55 Re: 4.190 Pro-drop
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <>
Subject: Re: 4.190 Pro-drop

>From: Mike Maxwell 6369 <>
>Subject: Subject and object pro-drop
>I will go out on a limb and suggest that one typological universal is
>that if a language is object pro-drop, then it is subject pro-drop.
>I'm ignoring the question of what the precise definition of pro-drop
>is here, because I don't have an answer! But for the sake of
>argument, let's say that in order for a language to be pro-drop, the
>empty arguments have to occur in embedded clauses. Counterexamples?

of course, everything depends on one's definitions, but yiddish has
what definitely looks like object pro-drop in all dialects and registers
but has what looks like subject pro-drop only in the colloquial
language. furthermore, the object pro-drop occurs freely in embedded
clauses while the subject pro-drop, even in the register in which it
occurs, is more or less limited to main clauses.

also, in my native dialect of 'yinglish', there's something that
looks like object pro-drop but no (yiddish-style) subject pro-drop.
however, here i believe the object pro-drop is lexical (whereas i
believe it's syntactic in yiddish.)

as long as i'm finally chiming in here, i'd like to ask the proponents
of the theory that 'gotta run' is a phonological initial-deletion rule
of some sort what the relevant unit is that the thing is the initial
part of. it certainly isn't the FULL (highest) sentence, since you get
things like 'well, be seeing you/gotta go/...', 'yeah, sure looks like
rain to me', or these two naturally-occurring ones:

[discussion of several types of roses that have been asked about;
relevant sentences in upper case]
'forget miss all-american beauty, not a show rose. touch of class and
folklore are. pristine is if you can get to the show before it opens.
brigadoon, maybe with older plants, RED LION DUG IT YEARS AGO, SHEER

finally, has anyone looked at 'locative-drop'? by this i mean the
ability to omit locatives in english and some but not all other languages,
as in 'he was on the train and got out [of the train]', 'we arrived [here/
there] at noon', 'there's a sale at the bookstore--why don't you run over
[there] and take a look [?at it]?'--i certainly don't think it's syntactic
but it's very very pervasive and tricky, if you're trying to actually make
sense of discourse. (interestingly, turkish, with rampant pro-drop of
arguments, apparently doesn't like to omit these locatives, at least not
as much as english does--personal communication, umit turan.)

ellen prince
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Message 3: pro-drop and expletives

Date: Sat, 06 Mar 93 18:41:24 CEpro-drop and expletives
From: Ingo Plag <PLAGDMRHRZ11.bitnet>
Subject: pro-drop and expletives

I have another question concerning pro-drop. As far as I know typical
pro-drop languages also have null expletives in subject position.
The problem now is, that, according to some analyses, there are pro-drop
languages where expletives MUST be overt. How can the theory account for
such a phenomenon?

Thanks in advance,

Ingo Plag
Universitaet Marburg
3550 Marburg
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Message 4: pro-drop

Date: Tue, 16 Mar 93 11:04:39 CSpro-drop
From: "Fernando Aviles" <>
Subject: pro-drop

 I remember the term `pro-drop' coming up in conversations with
fellow students at the University of Oregon in Eugene about
linguistic terminology that is inherently English-centric. We
speculated that if the analysis of this phenomena had originated
among linguists using a Romance language such as Spanish, for
instance, that in all likelihood English would have been termed a
`pro-add' language, since the English gloss for the Spanish
sentence `Est! lloviendo.' inserts a perfectly meaningless dummy
pronoun, to wit: `It's raining.'

Saludos: R. Mix
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Message 5: object pro-drop

Date: Tue, 16 Mar 93 11:00:34 CSobject pro-drop
From: "david joseph kathman" <>
Subject: object pro-drop

Just a few notes on the ongoing discussion on pro-drop:

Mike Maxwell mentions object pro-drop and notes that many American Indian
languages have this phenomenon. I should add that most Northwest and South
Caucasian languages, including Georgian and Abkhaz, also allow overt objects
to be omitted, since verbs agree with objects (both direct and indirect) as
well as subjects. He also mentions that this means that expletives are not
a diagnostic for pro-drop, since languages (except possibly English) don't
have expletive objects. First of all, I would draw your attention to the
article by Postal and Pullum in Linguistic Inquiry in 1988 (Expletive NPs
in Subcategorized Positions) in which they show pretty convincingly that
English does in fact have expletive NPs in object position. Also, I should
point out that Abkhaz allows expletive object agreement on the verb in a wide
variety of constructions; this may not be exactly the same thing as expletive
object *pronouns* (in fact, I would argue that it is not), but it's at least
closely related. And as long as we're on Abkhaz: while it does allow pro-drop
of both subjects and objects in declarative clauses (both root and subordinate),
it only reluctantly does so in interrogative clauses. And while postpositions
agree with their objects, these object cannot be dropped; they are obligatory.
I just gave a paper at BLS on Expletive Verb Marking in Abkhaz, if anybody
is interested.

Chris Culy mentions object pro-drop in English recipes. The CLS article he
alludes to is by Jerrold Sadock in CLS 10 (1974), "Read at your own risk:
syntactic and semantic horrors you can find in your medicine chest." It's
out of print now, but available from CLS in The Best of CLS. And on a similar
note, Geoff Pullum has an article in the Fall 1992-Spring 1993 California
Linguistic Notes called "Playing on or around", about those signs you see on'
dumpsters, "Do not play on or around". Pullum finds these signs to be
badly ungrammatical, but I personally don't find them all that much worse than
many of the examples Sadock cites. What do other people think?

Dave Kathman
University of Chicago
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