LINGUIST List 7.946

Sat Jun 29 1996

Sum: Pro-drop languages

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Bjarne Birkrem, Sum: Pro-drop languages

Message 1: Sum: Pro-drop languages

Date: Fri, 28 Jun 1996 11:30:16 +0200
From: Bjarne Birkrem <>
Subject: Sum: Pro-drop languages
About a week ago I posted a query on this list regarding the term "pro-drop
languages". What I was primarily interested in was references to the term,
and I am pleased to say that my "In" mailbox has been filling up throughout
the week. The term is, it appears, especially used to refer to languages
such as Italian, Spanish or Portuguese, where pronoun subjects can be
"dropped" (not a very appropriate term, as one correspondent pointed out!)
as the verbal suffixes are sufficiently marked for person and number. Some
also mentioned Chinese and Japanese, where pronouns may also be omitted,
though in these languages the verbs do not have personal suffixes of the
kind found e.g. in the Romance languages mentioned.

One particularly interesting piece of information concerned some Celtic
(more precisely, Brittonic) languages, especially Breton, where a pronoun
subject may EITHER be omitted, in which case the verbal inflection is
marked for person and number, OR the pronoun may be included, in which case
the 3rd sg verbal suffix is generalised throughout.

I've received a number of references to relevant literature. Here is a
selection - it would take up too much space here if I were to mention them
all. Some of them belong to the "general linguistics" category:

 Haegeman, L. (1991), An Introduction to the Government and Binding Theory
 (Oxford: Blackwell)
 Van Riemsdijk, H. & Williams, E. (1986), Introduction to the Theory of Gra=
 Gilligan, G. M. (1987), A Cross-Linguistic Approach to the Pro-drop Parame=
 (Ph.D. dissertation, USC)

and of course the "guru" himself,

 Chomsky, N. (1981), Lectures on Government and Binding

Among the more language-specific references I should like to mention the

 Rizzi, L. (1982), Issues in Italian Syntax (Dordrecht: Foris)
 Adams, M. (1987), "Fron Old French to the Theory of Pro-Drop", in Natural
 Language and Linguistic Theory, 5, pp. 1-32
 Hendricks, R. (1990), "The Syntax of the Modern Celtic Languages", in
 Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 23 (San Diego, CA: Academic press)
 Sproat, R. (1985), "Welsh Syntax and VSO Structure", in Natural Languages
 and Linguistic Theory, 3, pp. 173-216

as well as a more exotic one:

 Bresnan, J. & Mchombo, S. (19??), "Topic, Pronoun and Agreement in Chichew=
 in Language, 63, pp. 741-82

I should like to take this opportunity to thank the following people for
responding to my query (there may be more coming, but I'll post my summary
now, before going away on holidays...):

Catherine N. Ball, Georgetown
Maria Alves Castro, UK
Patrick Caudal, Paris (Merci beaucoup!)
Peter Daniels, Chicago
Marc Hamann, Toronto
Xiaozhao Huang, North Dakota
Jos=E9 Luis Sancho, Spain (=A1Muchas gracias!)
Steven Schaufele, Urbana, IL
Michael Wescoat, Osaka (Arigatoo gozaimashita!)
Geirr Wiggen, Oslo (Tusen takk!)

* BJARNE BIRKREM Ph.D student, Old & Middle English philology *
* *
* Department of British and American Studies, University of Oslo *
* P.O. Box 1003, Blindern, 0315 OSLO, Norway *
* *
* Tel.: (00 47) 22 85 47 75 Fax: (00 47) 22 85 68 04 *
* E-mail: *
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