prodrop in Hungarian

Edith A Moravcsik edith at CSD.UWM.EDU
Sun Jan 3 19:35:33 UTC 1999

			 Edith A. Moravcsik
			 Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics
			 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
		         Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413

			 E-mail: edith at
		         Telephone: (414) 229-6794 /office/
				    (414) 332-0141 /home/
		         Fax: (414) 229-2741


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From: MORAVCSIK Edit <moravcsik at>
To: lingtyp at
Subject: pro-drop in Hungarian
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In a thoughtful and carefully documented message, Leila Behrens and
Hans-Juergen Sasse have recently argued for two points regarding the use
of subjects in Hungarian sentences.

     l. Discourse-initially, sentences have to have overt subjects.
     2. Discourse- (and sentence-)internally, anaphoric subjects may
        be left out regardless of whether the predicate of the sentence is
        verbal, nominal, or adjectival.

As I see it, the first point is correct. Obvious exceptions are
stories that aim at a stunning beginning, such as "He killed her.",
in which case a sentence without an over subject is called for.

(In my earlier message, I did not mean to say anything about
discourse-initial position. When I wrote "...if I begin to talk about
Ja'nos, I cannot put in a sentence like "Teacher." to mean 'He/Ja'nos is a
teacher.'", what I meant was that "Teacher" could not CONTINUE a
discourse already started about Ja'nos. But I can see that my wording was

As for the second point, it seems to me to be mostly correct.
In addition to the literary examples cited in the Behrens-Sasse message,
here are others, all showing the absence of an overt subject in
the second sentence regardless of whether the predicate is verbal,
nominal, of adjectival.

    - verbal predicate: A fe'rfi ta'ntorog. Aztan leu~l.
                       'The man totters. He then sits down."
    - nominal predicate: A fe'rfi ta'ntorog. O~regember.
                        'The man totters. He is an old man.'
    - adjectival predicate: A fe'rfi ta'ntorog. Re'szeg.
                           'The man totters. He is drunk.'

Nonetheless, there are some examples where "pro-drop" is
unacceptable with adjectival predicates but fully acceptable with
both verbal and nominal ones. For example, in saying 'John lent me some
money. He is generous.' ("Ja'nos ko~lcso~nadott egy kis pe'nzt.
O" nagylelku".), the dropping of the pronoun "he" in the
second clause is infelicitous with this adjectival predicate; but
much better with a nominal predicate as in 'John lent me
some money. He is a generous man.' ("Ja'nos ko~lcso~nadott egy kis
pe'nzt. (O") nagylelku" ember." Another similar example:

    'John is standing in the door. He is tall.'
    "Ja'nos az ajto'ban a'll. O" magas.

    'John is standing in the door. he is a tall man.'
    "Ja'nos az ajto'ban a'll. O" magas ember.
                              Magas ember.

I am not sure what the reason is.

Hapy holidays and a great New Year!

Edith Moravcsik

PS In case you want to use the data given in the Behrens-Sasse message
   for future reference: there was a small misprint in it. The 14th word
   in example (2) should be "ma'sikig" (and not "ma'sigik").

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