|Title:||The Distribution of Pronoun Case Forms in English||Add Dissertation|
|Author:||Heidi Quinn||Update Dissertation|
|Email:||click here to access email|
|Institution:||University of Canterbury, Linguistics Department|
|Abstract:||This thesis investigates the influence of linguistic factors on the distribution of pronoun case forms in Modern English and argues that the alternation between nominative and objective pronoun forms is a surface phenomenon best captured in a probabilistic constraint-based approach, where constraints are weighted and the combined weight of constraint violations determines the probability of occurrence of a particular variant.
I propose that the distribution of both weak and strong pronoun forms in English is affected by the interaction of two structural case constraints: Argument Case, which restricts the overt case form of structural arguments of a predicate; and Positional Case, which constrains the form of pronouns that appear as the specifier of an agreement-related functional head at Spell-Out. Pronouns that occupy surface positions not covered by the Positional Case constraint are further influenced by a Default Case constraint that calls for objective pronoun forms.
A survey of data reported in existing studies suggests that all instances of pronoun case variation that cannot be given a purely case-based account occur in strong pronoun contexts. The consistent nominative/objective case distinction found with weak pronouns is due to their syntactic deficiency and the increasing importance of Positional Case in English. Unlike strong pronouns, weak pronouns must be licensed by an agreement-related functional head at Spell-Out, which means that they will generally be subject to the Positional Case constraint as well as the Argument Case constraint. Strong pronouns, on the other hand, tend to occur in positions not covered by Positional Case, which leaves them open to other influences.
I present results from a written survey of 90 speakers of English, which indicate that strong pronoun forms no longer merely identify the structural case of a pronoun, but also code its position within a syntactic construction, and identify its morphosyntactic status as a strong pronoun. These additional functions of strong pronoun forms are captured in two Relative Positional Coding constraints and a set of Invariant Strong Form constraints.
Variation occurs when the demands of the case constraints clash with the requirements of Relative Positional Coding and the tendency towards invariant strong pronoun forms.
The case trends reported in existing studies suggest that Relative Positional Coding and the tendency towards invariant forms affects not only personal pronouns but also wh-pronouns. For personal pronouns, the emerging invariant forms are the objectives _me_, _him_, _her_, _us_, _them_, but for wh-pronouns, the emerging invariant forms are the nominatives _who_ and _whoever_. As a result, the Invariant wh-form constraints clash with the three case constraints in different environments that the remaining Invariant Strong Form constraints.
Discrepancies between the grouping of pronoun forms associated with structural case and the grouping of pronoun forms associated with Relative Positional Coding are largely responsible for the distributional differences between strong 1sg (I/me) and non-1sg forms (he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them, who/whom). For the purposes of structural case, _I_ groups with the non-1sg nominatives _he_, _she_, _we_, _they_, _who_, and _me_ groups with the non-1sg objectives _him_, _her_, _us_, _them_, _whom_. For Relative Positional Coding, on the other hand, _I_ patterns with _him_, _her_, _us_, _them_, _whom_, and _me_ patterns with _he_, _she_, _we_, _they_, _who_.
All of the trends identified in this study point to an increasing influence of surface position on pronoun case choice, which can be seen as a correlate of the shift from morphological to positional licensing at the end of the Middle English period.