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 uwm.edu
Telephone: (414) 229-6794 /office/
(414) 332-0141 /home/
Fax: (414) 229-2741
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From: MORAVCSIK Edit <moravcsik at nytud.hu>
To: lingtyp at linguist.ldc.upenn.edu
Subject: pro-drop in Hungarian
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.95.981223150259.32659B-100000 at ny01.nytud.hu>
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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.
I am not sure what the reason is.
Hapy holidays and a great New Year!
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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