The pro cycle

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The argument in this paper is based on the premise that null subjects are pronouns with no phonological substance, called <i>pro</i>, which may receive case and theta-role. Null subject languages may differ as to the referential properties of <i>pro</i>, in some languages <i>pro</i> may have specific reference, in others only generic or expletive reference, and again in others there is no <i>pro</i> at all. In some languages <i>pro</i> may also function as a complement. <i>Pro</i> is found in languages with or without rich verb agreement. There is thus no direct correlation between <i>pro</i> and subject-verb agreement. Many of the languages with obligatory subject (e.g. Scandinavian, English, French) have developed from earlier stages with null subjects. This can be described as a loss of <i>pro</i> from the lexicon of those languages. This loss can in turn be explained as caused by a lack of sufficient input data during acquisition; at a certain stage the necessary cues for a phonologically empty item is insufficient, and <i>pro</i> is lost from the language. This would also account for the apparent unidirectionality of the loss of null subjects. However, there are cases of null subjects as an innovation (e.g. contemporary colloquial French). Furthermore, since <i>pro</i> is such a widespread phenomenon cross-linguistically, there must be causes why it still exists after more than 100,000 years of language development, and why it originated in the first place. The paper will end by some attempts to explain such facts. Keywords: null subject; null object; empty categories; syntactic change; Scandinavian languages; Romance languages; Latin; Greek


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