Knock! Knock! Who's there?

Alan R. King mccay at REDESTB.ES
Mon Nov 16 07:54:53 UTC 1998

Response to David Gil's questions.

(a) Language data for SPANISH and BASQUE.

>Imagine you're at home, and somebody knocks on the door.  What do you
>call out?
>In English, two common responses are:
>(1) Who's there?
>(2) Who it is?


First, a straight answer to your question, David.  In SPANISH [SP] (at
least that of northern Castile), and in BASQUE [BQ] (at least that of the
area in intense contact with Spanish), there are THREE possible responses
in such a situation:

[SP] ¿Quién es?
[BQ] Nor da?
"Who is it?"

[SP] ¿Quíen eres?
[BQ] Nor zara?
"Who are you?"

[SP] ¿Quién?
[BQ] Nor?

I'm not sure how "authentic" (3) [BQ] is; it might be a "vulgar"
Castilianism.  Perhaps other Basque speakers out there would like to opine?
 On reading David's question, I was first struck by the absence of option
(2), which seems to be as acceptable in some languages (e.g. Spanish) as it
is inappropriate in others, but for pragmatic rather than grammatical
reasons, I think.  In any case, the choice between alternatives (1), (2)
and (3) will obviously be governed by pragmatic principles.

(b) General comment on the issue raised by David:

>Now for a somewhat more theoretical query.  What I'm interested in is,
>loosely speaking, 'subject pro-drop' not with verbal predicates but
>rather with nominal ones.  My impression is that many languages that
>have 'subject pro-drop' for  verbal predicates do not allow it for
>nominal predicates.  For example, in Hebrew, you can say _halaxti_
>'go:PAST:1:SG' for 'Iwent', but not _talmid_ 'student' for 'I am a
>student'.  Does anyone have any data, ideas, or bibliographical
>references with regard to this?

I am certain that it is common in languages that distinguish between verbal
and nominal predicates for the two clause types to exhibit different
behaviour with regard to availability of subject pro-drop.  It is also
clear that in many languages of this type, verbal predicates, but not
nominal ones, incorporate a subject *index*, and that it is likely that
there is a close correlation between presence of a subject index in the
predicate and availability of subject pro-drop.  This is obviously what
happens in David's Hebrew examples: (PST = past; SPI1s = subject person
index, first person singular):

(Ani) halax-ti.
'I went.'

Ani talmid.
I student
'I am a student.'

but similar pairs can be found in numerous languages having nominal
predicates.  Conversely, I would predict that in most languages with
subject pro-drop and in which *all* predicates come with subject indices,
availability of subject pro-drop will not vary by predicate type.  Note
that languages "in which all predicates come with subject indices" may be
of two kinds: (i) languages in which all predicates are formally verbal
ones, like Spanish and Basque; (ii) languages in which there are verbal and
nominal predicates, but both types of predicate have subject indices.

Okay, maybe I've merely stated the obvious in the preceding paragraph, but
what I'm getting at is that my hunch is that the most direct correlation
you will find is between indexing and pro-drop availability.  While
predicate type (verbal versus nominal) predictably will correlate with
pro-drop, this latter phenomenon may be secondary to the former.  (By the
way, this principle presumably would extend to indexing and pro-drop for
non-subject arguments too, no?)

So how about looking in particular at languages in which the
"straightforward" correlation between indexing and pro-drop is not
fulfilled, such as Japanese (- indexing, + pro-drop).  If you can show that
even in such languages, nominal and verbal predicates have different
pro-drop properties, THEN I should say you're on to something.


Alan R. King, Ph.D.
alanking at
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