Odd dummy subject markers

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Apr 5 13:31:01 UTC 2006

At 9:00 AM -0400 4/5/06, Amy West wrote:
>I've been doing more Old Norse than modern
>English recently, so this construction reminds me
>of the "anticipatory pronoun" in Old Norse. Where
>a pronoun appears in the first clause which
>stands in for the following dependent clause,
>kind of like:
>He intended it, that they would get out.
>If you look all of Charles Doyle's examples, I
>think they follow that "it...that" pattern
>linking the two clauses.
>---Amy West

Well, but those "it"s refer to the upcoming clause (hence the
"anticipatory"), so they're rather different.  In the old days of
transformational grammar we used to describe them as instances of
extraposition from object (parallel to subject extraposition in "It
is likely that S" or "It bothers me that S") or, in the earlier
(mid-60s) terminology of Peter Rosenbaum, "it-replacement", and
extant cases include:

I resent/regret it that they will get out.
I take it that they will will get out.

For me these are quite different from "It says in the paper that they
will get out" where, as Arnold was noting, you don't get the
paraphrase "That they will get out says in the paper".  I don't see
any of Charles's other examples as fitting the extraposition pattern
either, although like Arnold I find most of those below somewhat
unsayable (without active morphology, that is--in the passive, they
turn into straightforward extraposition cases, e.g. "It is asserted
in the Bible that we should make a joyful noise" corresponding to
"That we should make a joyful noise is asserted in the Bible").


>>Date:    Tue, 4 Apr 2006 12:31:56 -0200
>>From:    Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
>>Subject: Re: Odd dummy subject markers
>>>From this discussion, it may be a sort of rule we could
>>formulate:  That the quasi-dummy ’Äúit,’Äù as Ron identifies it,
>>occurs mainly with verbs belonging to a semantic category of
>>COMMUNICATING or REVEALING (a reason Ron’Äôs example seems a
>>little odd could be that the verb ’Äúfeature’Äù only marginally
>>belongs to the category).  More normal would be:
>>~In the Bible it avers that dancing is a sin.
>>~It asserts there that we should make a joyful noise.
>>~In the New Testament it implies that public prayers are
>>~It said on the radio that a cold-front is coming.
>>~On the news this morning it reported that DeLay will resign.
>>~In the minority members’Äô report it suggested that Bush is a
>>~It showed on the Food Channel how to make crepes.
>>~On her CAT-scan it revealed a tiny tumor.
>>~In the judge’Äôs decision it never even brought up the
>>question of a woman’Äôs right to choose.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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