Friday, August 12, 2011

Curling, ghosts, and Newfoundland: constraints on null subjects

DATE : Monday August 15, 2011
TIME : 12:00-1:00 p.m.
LOCATION : FM-2006 (sociolinguistics lab)

Chemnitz University of Technology

It is a well-known fact that English allows the omission of pronominal subjects in speech,
resulting in utterances such as Ø Told you so or Ø Looks like rain. While different from pro-drop
in pro-drop languages such as Russian or Italian, studies have shown that the mechanisms
governing the “deletion” of these pronouns are very similar to the processes involved in pro-
drop (see e.g. Harvie 1998, Haegeman 1990). However, not all instances of non-overt subject
pronouns can be considered typical. Consider e.g.

A: Did you ever work in (place name)?
B: Ø Never worked in (place name).
Ø Ø Not really into scary movies, just comedy movies mostly.
Ø Had a bad stomach, she used to rub my stomach.

In this talk, I will focus on null first person subjects. The processes and peculiarities
involved in recovering over 300 “deleted” instances of I and we in relation to over 8,000 overt
pronouns will be discussed. Statistical regression analyses show that factors influencing
presence/absence of pronouns do not only include those previously discussed in literature on
pro-drop languages, but also features such as VP length which are known to have an impact on
subject realisation in first language acquisition. Moreover, the data show possible persistence
effects to be at work, with one null subject favouring another in the next subject slot.

Overall, the analyses suggest that factors from a number of disciplines,
including morphosyntax, discourse theory and sociolinguistics, as well as various theoretical
frameworks (formal and functional schools) and stages of acquisition/competence (first,
second, adult language) should be considered when discussing null subjects in English.

Feel free to bring your lunch!
(709) 864-8343

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