David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sat May 15 18:49:44 UTC 1999

Alan R. King wrote:

> English, _pace_ David Gil, is systematically non-pro-drop and only allows
> pro-drop by exception or as a special stylistic feature of limited
> application.

I'm not really sure if the claim is "_pace_" myself, since I just posed a
simple yes-no question :-)

But actually there's a host of constructions in English which are pro-drop.
My point is that you can't characterize such constructions as being an
"exception", or as a "special stylistic feature of limited application",
unless you have an explicit theoretical framework providing for an analysis of
*why* such constructions are peripheral.

Take Steven Schaufele's "Gotta run".  Well, in terms of frequency, it's hardly
"limited".  Now I share many people's intuitions that there's something
"special" about this construction.  But unless this intuition can be
formalized, I wouldn't want to presuppose it unquestioningly and build it into
my typologizing.

One obvious feature of this construction is that it's "informal".  However, I
feel very uneasy about assigning privileged status to acrolectal data in
linguistic descriptions: if anything it's basilectal data which have a better
claim for psychological reality -- they're what kids learn first, universally,
automatically, and without conscious schooling.

But on the other hand, I recall hearing somewhere a paper which argued for
some kind of "low level" phonological rule of utterance-initial syllable
deletion in English.  (Can anybody provide bibliographical details?)  Now to
the extent that such an analysis holds water, this would provide reason to
believe that "Gotta run" is "not a pro-drop" construction in at least one
usual sense of the term.  The point is that whether (or rather how) "Gotta
run" is relevant to a discussion of pro-drop cannot be simply proclaimed ex
cathedra -- it's something that has to fall out of an analysis.

In fact, Steven actually underestimated the range of constructions that are
prima facie candidates for pro-drop in English.  We all know about, but
conveniently ignore imperatives.  But here too there is at least some
cross-linguistic variation:  whereas in English the addressee of an imperative
is typically omitted, in Tagalog it is typically retained (even though in
other contexts Tagalog is more pro-drop than English.)

Or take "equi constructions".  In some Balkan languages you don't say "I want
to go" but rather "I want that I go".  Well from the perspective of such
languages, English would be partly pro-drop.

To sum up, if I were about to embark on a typological study of pro-drop, I
guess what I would do is define a handful of carefully selected test cases,
each of which would comprise a grammatical construction in conjunction with
various semantic features and also pragmatic ones.  And then go out and check
these cases in a reasonable sample of the world's languages.  Probably I
wouldn't be able to get all the data from grammar books.  But that's a problem
that we all have to come to grips with somehow.

David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-9952310
Fax: 49-341-9952119
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
Webpage:  http://monolith.eva.mpg.de/~gil/

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