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Null subjects and polarity focus

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Anders Holmberg



Some null-subject languages cannot drop the subject pronoun in the second conjunct in sentences which translate as They say that John doesn't speak French, but he does, where the pronoun is coreferent with John. Among the null-subject languages which do not allow a null subject in this context are Chinese (various dialects), Finnish and European Portuguese. Among the languages that allow it are Japanese, Persian, and Spanish. An explanation is proposed of this variation, based on the following correlation: The languages which do not allow a null subject standardly reply to yes/no-questions by repeating the finite verb of the question. The languages which allow a null subject standardly reply by using a special affirmation particle 'yes'. The connection between these two properties is that both involve polarity focus. The proposal is that a null subject in the second conjunct is prohibited in the former class because of a competition of derivations involving ellipsis. This hypothesis is based on the theory of polarity focus in Finnish articulated in Holmberg (2001). © The author 2007. Journal compilation 2007 The Editorial Board of Studia Linguistica.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Holmberg A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Studia Linguistica

Year: 2007

Volume: 61

Issue: 3

Pages: 212-236

Date deposited: 14/06/2010

ISSN (print): 0039-3193

ISSN (electronic): 1467-9582

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9582.2007.00135.x


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