Clarification of the term "pro-drop"

Gideon Goldenberg msgidgol at MSCC.HUJI.AC.IL
Wed Feb 11 19:59:32 UTC 2004

Dear Wolfgang and all,
I do not think that the use of "pro-drop" can be taken
as just another case of a term which like the ancient
traditional mistranslated "accusative" might be accepted
regardless of its literal sense. Its definition was very clear, e.g.,
in Chomsky's Government and Binding (pp. 240-241), where the
property in question is defined as "missing subject", and
explained saying that where there is inflexion involving
overt agreement "the subject can be dropped", "subject-drop
is permitted", "deletion". And yet you say that "nobody in
Typology will infer from the term 'pro drop' that head-marking
languages have 'dropped' an overt pronominal form". It was not
an unfortunate technical term that could be tolerated because
"terminological inexactitude" was common, but a clear
expression of an "intuitional idea" (so Ch.) which can be
accepted or rejected.                        Yours,  Gideon.

>Dear all,
>Claude surely is right when stressing the appropriateness of Gideon's
>formulation: "'[the] pro-drop' issue in formal linguistics has brought
>about a certain amount of confusion". Nevertheless, I guess, nobody in
>Typology will infer from the term 'pro drop' that head-marking languages
>have 'dropped' an overt pronominal form. Rather, I have the impression
>that the term is used for heuristic purposes only: It just describes the
>fact that an overt pronoun is lacking in case the pronominal referent is
>not in focus etc. There are many such terms in linguistics which must
>not be taken literally (just recall 'accusative') or which reflect a
>linguistic tradition which goes against the actual scientific paradigm
>that has adopted the term. For instance, it should come clear that
>'overt Speech Act Participant markers' cannot be 'pro-nouns', although
>they are concentionally termed as such. From a functional perspective, a
>pro-noun should be something that 'stands for' a noun in a given
>construction, but *not* in a paradigm (which by itself is often enough a
>heuristic construct of linguists). If ever the term pro-noun is
>functionally acceptable, it should be confined to anaphoric 'third
>person' markers etc.
>The semantics of linguistic terms may be subjected to diachrony,
>semantic change and borrowing just as any other ordinary language term.
>The only thing is that we always have to make clear what we mean by the
>term in an actual framework.

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