Universität Konstanz
Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft
SFB 471 "Variation und Entwicklung im Lexikon"

Funding Period 1st of January 1997 - 31st of December 2008







Project A-19

Evolution and Variation of Expletive and Neuter Pronouns in Romance Languages


Scientific areas:

Syntax and Semantics
Romance Linguistics
Historical Linguistics

Languages investigated:

Spanish (Iberian, Canarian, Caribbean: Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban), Portuguese (European and Brazilian), Galician, Leonese, Asturian, Aragonese, Catalan, Occitan, Francoprovençal, French, Rhaeto-Romance (Romansch and Ladin); Old French, Middle French, Old Spanish, Old Catalan, Old Occitan, Old Francoprovençal.

Starting point of the project:

The project investigates the occurrence of pronouns in impersonal constructions in a variety of Romance languages is d. We assume a parametrically defined correlation between the existence of overtly realized expletive pronouns and the non-null subject property (e.g. FR il pleut and GER es regnet). This notwithstanding, there are various varieties in the Romance languages deviating from this correlation. Diachronically, this holds for French, which was originally characterized by the null subject property and which had featured lexically realized expletive pronouns a long time before it lost the null subject property:

OFRE Quant li jurz passet ed il fut anuitet.
  La Vie de Saint Alexis, v.207 (approx. 1040-1045 AD)

Synchronically, null subject languages within the Modern Romance languages like Portuguese, Galician or Spanish have varieties featuring overtly realized pronouns in impersonal constructions:

GAL (a) El chove.
    It rains.
  (b) Il viñeron teus pais.
    There arrived your parents.

DOMSPA (a) Ello estaba lloviznando un poco.
    It drizzled a little.
  (b) Ello llegan guaguas hasta allá.
    There arrive buses which go as far as there.

On the other hand, in Romance non-null subject languages like French and Romansch (e.g. Surselvan), there are certain contexts in which expletive pronouns are/have to be omitted:

FRE Y a bien des vies qu'on nourrit d'études ou de science.
  There are people who only live from learning or studying.

SURS *Ier ein ei treis mattatschas arrivau.
  Yesterday, there arrived three girls.


On the basis of impersonal constructions of Romance languages we hope to gain insight into the representation of semantically "empty" expressions in the lexicon of a language as well as into the kind of morpho-syntactic properties they have.
Another issue that is scarcely taken into consideration in most of the generative analyses up to now touches upon the question of the lexical form of the expletive (e.g. the following variation occurring in French: il pleut vs. ça pleut).

Data and Methods:

The theoretical framework for the investigations of this project is the generative Principles and Parameters theory. Not least of all because of the postulate of the autonomy of the syntax does this theory constitute a suitable model to grasp functions and properties of semantically "empty" elements.
Furthermore, the collection and description of the empirical data is an important prerequisite for this project, not least of all because of the fact that the empirical data forming the basis of (recent) generative work are not always unproblematic, particularly with regard to judgments on grammaticality. Thus the first objective is the draft of a questionnaire with the help of which we will be able to gather judgments on the grammaticality of impersonal constructions.
The analysis of the gathered synchronic and diachronic data will be within the framework of the Principles and Parameters theory; aside from minimalist accounts, other models of explanation - primarily prosodic ones - will be considered for the analysis.


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