[Lingtyp] Query re anaphoric object pronouns

Haspelmath, Martin haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Mon Dec 16 14:13:30 UTC 2019

I have a question on 3rd person anaphoric pronouns in the world’s languages. In many languages, these are optional when they refer to a continuous topic, not only in subject (S/A) role, but also in object (P) role. So we get patterns like the following:

– Have you seen Lee today?
– Yes, I met (her) in the cafeteria.

I’m wondering if the following universal tendency is true:

(U) In almost all languages, if the anaphoric object pronoun is obligatory, it is a bound form (= a form that cannot occur on its own, i.e. an affix or a clitic).

Spanish and Arabic are examples of languages where the obligatory anaphoric object forms are bound (clitic or affix). English and German are exceptions to this generalization (and perhaps a few other European languages as well).

But are there many exceptions? According to Siewierska (2004: 43), about two thirds of all languages (223 out of 378 in her WALS chapter<https://wals.info/feature/102A>) have bound object person forms (= object indexes), so the hypothesized universal tendency is a question about those languages that lack object indexes, and have only independent personal pronouns or demonstratives for object function. Are there many among them which (like English) obligatorily require an overt form in this function?

Or are most of them like Mandarin Chinese, which according to Wiedenhof (2015: §5.2.2) happily allows zero-anaphora sentences like Nǐ yào ma? [you want Q] ‘Do you want it?’

I’m interested in all reports of languages outside of Europe which are unlike Mandarin, and like English, in this respect.

Many thanks,

Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
Institut fuer Anglistik
IPF 141199
D-04081 Leipzig
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