Functional explanations for Subject to Subject Raising

Mark Davies mdavies at RS6000.CMP.ILSTU.EDU
Thu Mar 7 21:41:20 UTC 1996

I'm looking for a functional account of why Subject to Subject Raising (SSR)
is more common in the written register of a certain language than it is in
the spoken register.

In a 7,000,000+ computer-based corpus of Modern Spanish that I've put
together (about half spoken, half written Spanish), the data shows is that
SSR is much more common in Written Spanish than in Spoken Spanish.  For
example, 66% (1177 / 1778) of all cases of <parecer> "to seem" in Written
Spanish take the infinitive (1a) as opposed to a finite clause (1b), but
this figure is only about 10% (190 / 1895) in Spoken Spanish:

        1a) Juan _parecia oir_ su voz (_John seemed_ to hear her voice)
        1b) _parecia que_ Juan oia su voz (it _seemed that_ John heard her

Furthermore, the figure for the +SSR type of sentence in (1a) is only about
2% (34 / 1895) in Spoken Spanish if you ignore all cases of <parecer> plus
semantically "bland" embedded verbs like <estar, ser, haber> "seem to be",
as opposed to 53% (950 / 1778) in Written Spanish.

Along with this is the fact that only in Written Spanish is it common to
have SSR with all types of subjects - 1/2/3 person.  Whereas there are a
fair number of cases of 1/2 person like (2a) in the written corpus, there
are no cases in the spoken corpus:

        2a) no pareces entender la pregunta (you don't seem to understand
the question)
        2b) no parece que entiendas la pregunta (it doesn't seem that you
understand the q.)

So even though there are a few cases like (1a) in the spoken corpus, they
are pretty much limited to 3sg subjects, with a few 3pl, but no 1/2 person.

An equally as intriguing phenomena I've found are some "pseudo-raising"
constructions in spoken Spanish, where the embedded subject is raised, but
is never "deleted" downstairs (as indicated by the 2sg conjugation for both
verbs, as opposed to a downstairs infinitive (3).  This occurs a fair amount
of times in the spoken corpus, but only once in the written corpus.  It's as
though there is an aborted attempt in spoken Spanish to have a SSR
construction, but it never makes the entire way.

        3) _pareces que no _entiendes_ (you seem that you don't understand)

In looking over the literature for functional explanations for SSR, a few
researchers (eg. Givon _Syntax_, Vol 2, pp.767-778) suggest that SSR is a
function of topicality -- i.e. raised NPs (1a) are more topical than
non-raised NPs (1b).

I guess what has me stumped is why there should be such a big difference
between the spoken and written registers.  One would presume that the same
functional tendencies are at play in both types of speech, and yet this
won't account for the difference.  I've looked at about every article on
Spanish SSR that I can get my hands on, as well as a few selected general
functional approaches to SSR, but no luck.  Any ideas?

Mark Davies, Assistant Professor, Spanish Linguistics
Dept. of Foreign Languages, Illinois State University
Normal, IL 61790-4300

Voice:309/438-7975       email:mdavies at

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