position of subject in nonfinite clauses

Jon Aske aske at EARTHLINK.NET
Tue Feb 17 03:49:38 UTC 1998

Hi, again,

On Monday, February 16, 1998 9:30 PM J. Clancy Clements (Kapil) said:

> I have another question which I can't figure out a functionalist-oriented
> response to.  In Spanish, nonfinite clauses (i.e. infinitival and
> gerundive clauses) cannot have a subject preverbally.   For example,
> Por decir estas cosas mi abuela...
> because-of say these things my grandmother
> "Because of my grandmother saying these things..."
> *Por mi abuela decir estas cosas...

First of all I must say that this last starred clause doesn't sound all that
bad to me, so let me hear from other speakers.  Maybe some other language is
interefering with my Spanish here.

But assuming Clancy's data is right, and it probably is for some dialect or
another, I don't have a story for why it HAS to be this way, since I don't
know the diachronic (hi)story of the construction, but I could make a
plausible one up and say that this makes perfect sense once we realize that
these are unasserted clauses and thus the notion topic is not relevant to
them the way it is to asserted clauses.

As I see it, a topic typically has an external subfunction--linking the
proposition to the world of discourse--and an internal subfunction--serving
as the base for the proposition (what the asserted proposition is about).
Non asserted clauses may have linking elements, but only asserted clauses
may have internal, predication topics.  When these topics are expressed by
full nominals they are typically clause initial (unless they are inverted,
or antitopics).

Now, since the notion topic (as well as the notion focus) is not really
relevant to non-asserted clauses, it is not surprising that the subject is
not preverbal, since preverbal position is typically correlated  with topics
in Spanish and postverbal position is associated with everything else.

Now for the second part of this story (another motivation for the Por-VS
order).  Remember that in the majority of these non-asserted causal, POR
setting clauses, the subject is elided, since it is coreferential with the
subject of the asserted clause.  This would motivate the "fusion", or
"cliticization", or what-have-you of the POR subordinator and the
infinitive, which then would motivate the avoidance of placing overt
subjects in between when they are ocasionally present, since they are not
topics anyway (sort of like the tendency not to "split infinitives" in

How is that for a functionalist made-up story?

Best, Jon

PS  Regarding the possibility of having a preverbal subject, I wonder if
native speakers allow it in the finite versions of these non-asserted
clauses, such as the following:

Porque mi abuela dijo estas cosas, nos fuimos todos a casa.

(as opposed to:
Porque dijo estas cosas mi abuela, nos fuimos todos a casa. or
Porque dijo mi abuela estas cosas, nos fuimos todos a casa. )

To me it doesn't sound bad.

Jon Aske
Jon.Aske at salem.mass.edu - aske at earthlink.net
Department of Foreign Languages
Salem State College
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have
to say something.  --Plato,

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