Government and Binding Theory/The pro-drop Parameter

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Government and Binding Theory
Control Theory The pro-drop Parameter Binding Theory

Apart from PRO, which we have seen in the last chapter, there's another type of null subject. For example, in written Finnish, first and second-person subject pronouns are generally omitted (although they are intact in speech):


Personal pronouns
Finnish English
minä I
sinä you
hän he or she
me we
te you
he they
Te you

The dropping of minä, sinä, me and te is not the same as the dropping of PRO:

  • The dropping is optional.
  • If the resulting null subject were PRO, the PRO theorem would be violated.
  • The resulting null subject is not subject to control.

This led to the introduction of another null subject known as little pro. pro-drop does not apply to all languages though. For example, English and French do not allow it:

(2a) *Is the best professor in the field of theoretical linguistics.
(2b) *Est le meilleur professeur dans le domaine de la linguistique théorique.

Properties of pro-drop languages

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Rizzi's other properties

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Rizzi listed several properties common to pro-drop languages:

  • No pleonastic subjects
  • Subject-VP inversion is possible
  • wh-elements can be extracted more easily in certain situations

Let's examine these properties one by one. Chinese, which is pro-drop, does not have pleonastic subjects, such as the following example in Mandarin:

(3a) Xia yu-le.
(Fall rain-asp.)
(It has rained.)
[Note: It is controversial in linguistics whether 'xia yu' is a word or a phrase, as it has the properties of both. This is irrelevant to the present discussion.]
(3b) *Has rained.

Although Italian is primarily SVO, it allows subject-VP inversion, as shown in Rizzi's own example below, while French generally doesn't:

(4a) Ha telefonato Gianni.
(has telephoned Gianni)
(Gianni has telephoned)
(4b) *A téléphoné Jean.
(has telephoned Jean)
[Note: French allows subject-verb inversions in certain cases like relative clauses, but this is again irrelevant.]

Licensing pro

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Huang's modification

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