LINGUIST List 4.201

Thu 18 Mar 1993

Disc: Pro-drop

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  1. Patrick Farrell, Re: 4.186 Pro-drop
  2. Douglas Purl, Re: 4.180 Sum: Pro-drop Languages
  3. Dan Slobin, pro-drop
  4. , Re: 4.194 Pro-drop

Message 1: Re: 4.186 Pro-drop

Date: Tue, 16 Mar 93 10:05:01 -0Re: 4.186 Pro-drop
From: Patrick Farrell <>
Subject: Re: 4.186 Pro-drop

Concerning the question of whether English has
pro-drop, Jeanette Gundel says:
>it seems to me, that what
>is going on here isn't pro-drop but omission
>of unstressed, pragmatically recoverable
>material in sentence initial position. If
>we adopt this analysis, then the fact
>that omission of subjects is restricted
>to main clauses would follow automatically,
>as would the restriction to casual speech.

This is an admittedly more
reasonable view of the matter than the radical pro-drop
approach I attempted to justify. I was assuming that subject
pronouns are specifically targeted for omission.
On deeper reflection, I'm not so sure that is right.
Seems to me that unstressed determiners that might be said
to be "pragmatically recoverable" can also be omitted ... but
only in sentence-initial position:

a. (The) guy over there seems pretty drunk, doesn't he?
b. Do you see *(the) guy over there in the corner?

If this intuition about such examples turns out to reflect a
fact about the phenomenon, the "initial material" omission
analysis receives further support.

Patrick Farrell
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Message 2: Re: 4.180 Sum: Pro-drop Languages

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1993 02:11:44 Re: 4.180 Sum: Pro-drop Languages
From: Douglas Purl <>
Subject: Re: 4.180 Sum: Pro-drop Languages

The discussion of pro-drop puts one in mind of Kant's kaveats koncerning
the attempt to prove the existence of God by defining Him/Her/It as the
possessor of such qualities as perfection and existence. I can conceive
of a perfect unicorn, and of course a perfect unicorn would exist or it
wouldn't be perfect, by definition. Kant demonstrates in the *Critique of
Pure Reason* that we can be fooled by the predicate structure of language
into believing what we predicate is reality.
 It would help in this discussion if someone would lay out rigorous
ground rules. For example, pro-drop of objects has been mentioned lately.
Now I can define an object as the necessary condition of a transitive verb
and exclude *eat* when it does not co-occur with an object. Or, I could
define objects as merely sufficient conditions for transitive verbs, and
posit a complex set of rules for determining transitivity with suppressed
objects (*Eat while still hot.*). If an object (or subject, etc.) is the
necessary condition for a certain feature (say a verb), then there can be
no pro-drop, can there?
 I have the impression that we have seen conflicting points of view not
because disputants were right or wrong but because their grammatical
models conflicted implicitly. Not only do all grammars leak, they
navigate by different lodestars. Or am I missing the boat?

Douglas Purl--U. of Montana
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Message 3: pro-drop

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1993 16:19:46 pro-drop
From: Dan Slobin <>
Subject: pro-drop

I quite agree with Fernando Aviles that the term "pro-drop"
represents an "English-centric" view of things. But, from
the point of view of acquisition, it is Spanish, rather than
English, that is better treated as a "pro-add" language. In
my work on acquisition of "pro-drop" languages--Spanish and
Turkish--what the child has to learn is when to *use* a pro-
noun rather than when to "drop" one, since presupposition-
ally neutral sentences in discourse do not have pronouns.
The child has to learn, for example, that "adding" a subject
pronoun can mark contrast, rather than just "subject"; or
that a pronoun is needed in discourse in order to clearly
establish reference to an earlier topic or to switch to a
different topic; and so forth. In a study of the develop-
ment of subject pronouns in Turkish child language, I found
that 2-year-olds had learned many discourse functions both
of pronoun vs. null pronoun and initial vs. postposed pro-
noun. For example, null pronoun was used in neutral
responses to questions and offering of information; initial
pronoun was used to assertively contrast the child's inten-
tions with those of another person; and postposed pronoun
was used to emphasize or assert a claim. Only older chil-
dren, however (about age 4) began to systematically use pro-
nouns to indicate topic switch in short narratives.
Clearly, much more is involved in acquiring Spanish or Turk-
ish than simply setting the "pro-drop parameter" to null.
The child has to learn the functions of both null and
expressed pronouns and, for the latter, the functions of
syntactic position (and, in some languages, stress, reduc-
tion, cliticization, etc.).

Dan Slobin (
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Message 4: Re: 4.194 Pro-drop

Date: 17 Mar 1993 13:41:24 -0600Re: 4.194 Pro-drop
From: <>
Subject: Re: 4.194 Pro-drop

I think a good case can be made that Classical Latin is object pro-drop,
and surely someone else must have noticed that Japanese is.

This despite the fact that the lost information cannot be recovered from
verb agreement, as in the case of Latin subject pro-drop.

That having been said, I *still* don't know why anyone finds this subject
terribly interesting, or why the GB boys (and girls) regard it as an im-
portant parameter. Call it "zero pronominalization", and we have a term
applicable to any such deletion in any language regardless of syntactic

Nevertheless, I repeat an earlier assertion that the English phenomenon is
better regarded as sentence-initial truncation rather than pro-drop.
The example "Well, can't make after all" proves nothing, since why is
_well_ part of the sentence? It isn't! Write an exclamation point and
it still works, because _well_ is separate.

This suggests a criterion for distinguishing pro-drop (or "zero pronomi-
nalization") from mere truncation: zero-pronominalization is independent
of larger syntactic environments, while truncation affects exactly the
beginning or end of clauses. German _Hast gehoert?_ < _Hast du gehoert?_
'Have you heard?" shows a third phenomenon: total phonetic loss of a
restricted set of pronouns in precisely defined phonetic or morphological
environments (_du_ > 0 only after verbal desinence -st).

Well, perhaps zero-pronominalization is not *always* independent of
syntactic environments, but it is *not* confined to the beginning or end
of certain clauses, as truncation (apocope) is.

--Leo Connolly
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