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Academic Paper

Title: Never saw one – first-person null subjects in spoken English
Author: Susanne A. Wagner
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Linguistic Field: Syntax
Subject Language: English
Abstract: While null subjects are a well-researched phenomenon in pro-drop languages like Italian or Spanish, they have not received much attention in non-pro-drop languages such as English, where they are traditionally associated with particular (written) genres such as diaries or are discussed under a broader umbrella term such as situational ellipsis. However, examples such as the one in the title – while certainly not frequent – are commonly encountered in colloquial speech, with first-person singular tokens outnumbering any other person.

This article investigates the linguistic and non-linguistic factors influencing the (non-) realisation of first-person singular subjects in a corpus of colloquial English. The variables found to contribute to the observed variation are drawn from a variety of linguistic domains and follow up on research conducted in such different fields as first language acquisition (FLA), cognitive linguistics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics and language variation and change. Of particular interest is the finding regarding the link between null subjects and complexity of the verb phrase, which patterns in a clearly linear fashion: the more complex the verb phrase, the more likely is a null realisation. Not discussed in this form before, this finding, given its high significance and its robustness in light of alternative coding, may prove to be an important candidate for inclusion in future studies on (English) null subjects.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 22, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site .

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