[Lingtyp] Query re anaphoric object pronouns

Haspelmath, Martin haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Tue Dec 17 13:09:00 UTC 2019

Thanks for the various reactions and comments! Alex François's proposal (copied below) makes a lot of sense.

It may well be that his generalization (U2) will turn out to be true, but it is somewhat different from my proposal (U1), repeated below.

(U2) Languages will locate the boundary between overt and zero expression of the object  somewhere along that scale {1>2>3>4}, with overt expression to the left and zero to the right.

(U1) 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).

What I am after is the idea that boundness and obligatoriness tend to be correlated in anaphoric forms, such that bound forms have a greater tendency to be obligatory, and obligatory forms have a greater tendency to be bound (and also conversely for free forms and optional forms). This would be explained by frequency of occurrence: If a form is very frequent, it is likely to be(come) obligatory, and it is also likely to be(come) short – and therefore bound – for reasons of coding efficiency.

But I do recognize that "obligatoriness/optionality" are somewhat vague and need to be sharpened, e.g. along the lines suggested by Alex.

As for Alex's scale, I must say that I don't understand why inanimate objects should have a greater tendency to be zero-expressed than animate objects. Is this a kind of differential object marking? But if so, wouldn't we expect the mirror image with subject marking (i.e. greater tendency for animate anaphoric subjects to be zero)?


On 16.12.19 23:19, Alex Francois wrote:
If we come back to Martin's question, I believe we should first agree on a particular syntactic context to be tested.  This would make our data comparable across languages, and give stronger value to our generalisations ("structure X is allowed in language A but not in language B").
In this case, the test could be defined as follows:

  *   The test sentence must have a transitive verb, which is not the mere repetition of a previous verb (as in a reply to a polar question).
  *   Its grammatical object is a participant that is already activated in discourse (topical), and is retrieved anaphorically.
  *   Can this object be zero-expressed?
  *   In each language, the test could be carried out with

(1) a speech act participant
(2) a human referent
(3) a non-human, animate referent
(4) an inanimate referent.

Here would be possible questionnaire sentences:

(1) My sister knows you already.  She saw [[you]] last month at the party.

(2) You know my sister already.  You saw [[her]] last month at the party.

(3) You know my cat already.  You saw [[it]] last month in my home.

(4) You do know that song.  You sang [[it]] last year in class.

Mwotlap (Vanuatu) has obligatory expression of the object for sentences (1)–(2)–(3), using free pronouns;
it has obligatory dropping (zero expression) of the object in (4).

English and French have obligatory expression of the object in all four sentences.
What about Mandarin? Hebrew? other languages?

According to Jürgen's message, Mayan would have segmental realisation of the object in (1), but zero in (2)–(3)–(4).
I propose the following hypothesis (which needs to be tested):
Languages will locate the boundary between overt and zero expression of the object  somewhere along that scale {1>2>3>4}, with overt expression to the left and zero to the right.


Alex François

LaTTiCe<http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–<http://www.cnrs.fr/index.html>ENS<https://www.ens.fr/laboratoire/lattice-langues-textes-traitements-informatiques-et-cognition-umr-8094>–Sorbonne nouvelle<http://www.univ-paris3.fr/lattice-langues-textes-traitements-informatiques-cognition-umr-8094-3458.kjsp>
Australian National University<https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/francois-a>
Academia page<https://cnrs.academia.edu/AlexFran%C3%A7ois> – Personal homepage<http://alex.francois.online.fr/>


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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