LINGUIST List 7.966

Mon Jul 1 1996

Disc: Pro-drop languages

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. John Verhaar, Re: 7.946, Sum: Pro-drop languages
  2. Dave Harris, Re pro-drop, British dialects

Message 1: Re: 7.946, Sum: Pro-drop languages

Date: 01 Jul 1996 03:06:15 EDT
From: John Verhaar <101457.3114CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Re: 7.946, Sum: Pro-drop languages

	I feel sceptical about the term "pro-drop languages", mainly
for two reasons: [a] you can't "drop" what isn't there; [b] the lack
of need for pronouns correlates with so many different things.
	As one colleague has pointed out, when verbs are marked for
person (subject), as in Italian, pronouns are often informationally
redundant. But also, many languages without verb agreement leave out
deictic pronouns for reasons of deemphasis of their referents. Again,
the ergative voice in languages having such a voice leaves out object
pronouns. Then, head-marking languages leave out pronouns for which
the verb is marked not because the verb is marked for them but (I
believe) because (as Johanna Nichols has pointed out) dependent
arguments are not "governed" by the head. Then, languages which can
never drop subject pronouns in simple sentences, can do without them
in complex sentences for reasons of coreferential reference. Also
languages like English and Dutch, which always need pronominal
subjects (and objects), can dispense with them in imperatives, but
even here there are differences (English: _Someone get me a chair_;
_You do that!_; but in Dutch imperatives can have no subjects at all.
	So "pro-drop" may be a name filled with projection from one
typology, and typologically that name is rather unrevealing if it
indicates a supposedly unified category.
					Typologically yours,
					John Verhaar
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Message 2: Re pro-drop, British dialects

Date: Mon, 01 Jul 1996 09:48:50 CDT
From: Dave Harris <>
Subject: Re pro-drop, British dialects
/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.

When reading the above, I was immediately reminded of that curious
phenomenon prevalent in some British dialects where the verbal ending
's' which usually marks third person singular appears at the end of
all verbs regardless of person or number. I guess you could call it
the Popeye phenomenon. Could it be that this originated in Celtic
languages and was transferred onto English by native Welsh, Cornish,
or other Celtic-tongue speakers?
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