[Lingtyp] Query re anaphoric object pronouns

Volker Gast volker.gast at uni-jena.de
Mon Dec 16 15:18:56 UTC 2019

Hi Martin,
Object pro-drop is perfectly normal and rule-governed in German. I think 
objects are systematically dropped in the Forefield when they are 
inanimate and highly topical, e.g.

A: Kennst du den Film? ('Do you know the film?')
B: Ja, hab ich gestern gesehen. ('Yes, I saw [it] yesterday.')

This is not possible in the Middle Field:

B: *Ja, ich hab gestern gesehen.

And it seems to be awkward with animate referents:

A: Hast du Lee heute schon gesehen?
B: ?Ja, hab ich vorhin in der Cafeteria getroffen.

I am not sure to what extent our descriptive grammars acknowledge that 
(though the Duden grammar is much less prescriptive than it is sometimes 
claimed to be.)

One thing that grammars (still) get systematically wrong is that the 
er/sie/es-Paradigm is treated as the only set of anaphoric pronouns. I 
think in the Forefield, you HAVE to use der/die/das if you want to sound 
native. For instance,

B': Ja, sie habe ich vorhin in der Cafeteria getroffen.

is a typical sentence uttered by an excellent non-native student of 
German, following the rules of the course books. Native speakers, I 
think, would never say this, but rather

B: Ja, die habe ich vorhin in der Cafeteria getroffen.

Well, that's at least my intuition ... and it is of course totally in 
accordance with your generalization. But it shows perhaps that we should 
not rely too much on information taken from grammars (I haven't checked 
what the Duden grammar says about object pro-drop though.)

Note that two paradigms (er/sie/es, der/die/das) also differ in their 
phonological properties. If 'er' is stressed, it can only refer to an 
animate referent. This does not apply to 'der'. If you point at an 
object of masculine gender, e.g. a computer, you can't use 'er':

* Was kostet denn ER? (What does this one cost?')

This would definitely be slave trade. Again, you'd have to use 'der':

Was kostet DER (hier)?

The pronoun 'es' doesn't even have a stressed form, so 'das' is the only 
option in many cases anyway.


Am 16.12.2019 um 15:13 schrieb Haspelmath, Martin:
> 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
> -- 
> Martin Haspelmath (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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