Impersonal null-subjects in Icelandic and elsewhere Halldór Ármann Sigurðsson & Verner Egerland Lund University - PDF

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Impersonal null-subjects in Icelandic and elsewhere Halldór Ármann Sigurðsson & Verner Egerland Lund University 1. Introduction 2. The features of overt impersonals 3. Icelandic impersonal null-subject

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Impersonal null-subjects in Icelandic and elsewhere Halldór Ármann Sigurðsson & Verner Egerland Lund University 1. Introduction 2. The features of overt impersonals 3. Icelandic impersonal null-subject constructions 4. The features of zero impersonals 5. Comparative issues 6. Conclusion Abstract We study the properties of impersonal null-subjects, in particular in Icelandic, exploring the idea that such elements are constructed in syntax (rather than being lexical pronouns deleted in PF). In addition, we discuss the cross-linguistic distribution of impersonal null-subjects. Keywords: Icelandic, impersonal subjects, pro, Swedish 1. Introduction * We use the term impersonal arguments, impersonals for short, to refer to impersonal +HUMAN pro and indefinite +HUMAN pronouns like English one, Italian si, French on. 1 Elaborating on the approach in Egerland (2003a, 2003b) we distinguish between three subtypes or readings of impersonals: 2 Generic, like generic English you (and generic one, in more formal registers) Arbitrary, like arbitrary English they Specific, often referring to the speaker or a group including the speaker * Preliminary versions of this article were presented by Halldór Sigurðsson at the linguistics departments in Venice, Siena and Budapest in the spring A related study was also presented by Halldór at the Workshop on Partial Pro Drop at Cambridge University, 30 June 2006, and at the Null Subjects and Parametric Variation Workshop in Reykjavík, July We thank the organizers of these events and the audiences for their questions and comments. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for thorough and helpful comments. The research for this work was supported by a grant from the Swedish Research Council, VR We treat clauses containing clitics like si as containing an overt and not a zero impersonal. For our purposes, it is immaterial whether si, Spanish se, etc., are subjects or in an agree relation with subject pro (see Cinque 1988). 2 Our understanding of the notion arbitrary is slightly different from that of Egerland (2003a, 2003b). In his seminal work, Cinque (1988) referred to the generic reading as arbitrary, but made a distinction between quasiuniversal and quasi-existential readings. 1 We will discuss these notions more thoroughly in section 2. Relatively little is yet known about the cross-linguistic distribution of silent and overt impersonals. As noticed by Holmberg (2005, 2007b), however, some consistent pro-drop languages, like Spanish and Italian, lack generic impersonal 3 person pro, in contrast to partial pro-drop languages like Hebrew and Finnish. Compare the Finnish clause in (1) with the Spanish and Italian ones in (2): (1) Sinne ei muuta vapaehtoisesti. (Finnish, Holmberg 2007b) there not.3sg moves voluntarily One doesn t move there voluntarily. (2) a. En este país se trabaja duramente. (Spanish, Jaeggli 1986a:53) in this country SE works.3sg hard In this country, one works hard. b. Si lavora sempre troppo. (Italian, Cinque 1988:522) SI works.3sg always too-much One always works too much. Without se/si, the Spanish and Italian examples get an exclusively referential 3SG reading, he or she. Finnish, in contrast, has no overt impersonal pronoun. Also, unlike Spanish and Italian, it has no free or general definite 3 person pro, that is, (1) cannot have a definite reading. We will return to these facts in section 5. Icelandic has both overt and silent impersonals. Illustrative examples with overt impersonals are given in (3): 3 (3) a. Fyrst beygir maður til hægri. first turns.3sg one to right 3 Icelandic has two other words that can function as impersonal subjects, the 3PL.MASC pronoun þeir they and the plural menn (of maður), literally men but they or some people when impersonal: (i) a. Þeir segja að það rigni á morgun. they.masc say.3pl that it rains on morning They say it is going to rain tomorrow. (i.e., It is said that ) b. Menn náðu bófanum um kvöldið. men cought.3pl culprit.the in evening.the They cought the culprit in the evening. We do not include these impersonals in our study, for reasons of space, and also because they are not common or central as impersonals. 2 First, one turns to the right. b. Í þessari fjölskyldu drekkur þú bara ekki áfengi. in this family drink.2sg you just not alcohol In this family, one just does not drink alcohol. Historically, impersonal maður stems from the noun maður man, person, human, but its pronominal function is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the impersonal function of the 2SG pronoun is even more recent. 4 Icelandic impersonal null-subjects are largely confined to three constructions, namely the (Germanic) impersonal passive, the so-called impersonal modal construction, and an impersonal present participle construction (see Sigurðsson 1989:161ff). Illustrative examples are given in (4) (the characteristic morphology of the constructions is highlighted): (4) a. Fyrst er beygt til hægri. (passive) first is.3sg turned to right First, one turns to the right. b. Í þessari fjölskyldu má bara ekki drekka áfengi. (modal) in this family may.3sg just not drink alcohol In this family, one is simply not allowed to drink alcohol. c. Það er ekki flytjandi þangað. (present participle) it is.3sg not moving (= movable ) to-there One cannot move there. In passing, notice that expletive það there, it, seen in (4c), is only optional, competing with various other elements for the preverbal, initial position (see Thráinsson 2007:309ff and the references cited there). It does not invert with the finite verb in V1 and V2 contexts, nor does it show any other clear subject properties. The impersonal null-subject is the focus of our interest here, but we will be using the maður construction as a ground for comparison, so as to get a clearer picture of the properties and limitations of impersonal null-subject constructions. As far as we can judge, the impersonal 2SG pronoun þú has much the same properties as impersonal maður, so we will not consider it further (but see Egerland 2003a for some discussion). A central result of our study is that the Icelandic impersonal null-subject has more in common with overt impersonals in other languages than with Icelandic maður. That is, the 4 Smári (1920:130) says that impersonal (generic) maður has become common in both the spoken and the written language, but adds that it is of a Danish and German origin and completely wrong. In Böðvarsson (1963:416) impersonal maður is judged questionable and overused. Neither work mentions the impersonal 2SG pronoun. Kristinsson (1998:168), on the other hand, says that using the impersonal 2SG pronoun is not careful language, bot he does not comment on or warn against impersonal maður. 3 Icelandic impersonal pro cannot be considered to be a null maður, as it were. 5 We take this to constitute evidence that null impersonals are constructed in syntax but interpreted as zero in the overt, expressive component of language, PF, rather than being transferred to PF with a phonological matrix and then deleted. In section 2, we develop a feature analysis of overt impersonals, largely based on the approach to Swedish man one in Egerland (2003a, 2003b). In section 3, we describe the distribution and the formal properties of Icelandic impersonal null-subject constructions. Section 4 analyzes the semantic properties of Icelandic zero impersonals. Section 5 discusses zero impersonals in a comparative perspective, illustrating that the variation is fine-grained, suggesting that it cannot be accounted for in terms of a single parameter. Section 6 concludes the paper. 2. The features of overt impersonals Many languages have overt subjects or subject markers in impersonal constructions: (5) English one, you, they; French on; Italian si, Catalan, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish se; Polish się; Czeck, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian se, as well as Serbo-Croatian ćovjek and Slovenian èlouk; Dutch men, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish man, Faroese man(n), Icelandic maður; Hungarian az ember, etc. This short and arbitrary list is sufficiently long to illustrate that overt impersonals are common, at least in well-known European languages. Egerland (2003a, 2003b) discusses impersonals in Scandinavian and Romance, illustrating, as we mentioned in the introduction, that one has to distinguish between three readings of such pronouns: Generic, arbitrary and specific. Slightly revising Egerland s approach, we assume the following understanding of these notions: (6) a. Generic: non-restricted +HUMAN reading, i.e., people in general 6 b. Arbitrary: a non-specific +HUMAN reading, excluding the speaker or the hearer c. Specific: a specific +HUMAN reading, referring to a wholly or a partly specific set of individuals, most commonly including the speaker 5 Similar observations hold across overt vs. covert impersonals in other languages as well. 6 The generic reading is closely tied with generic time reference, see further below. Under either generic or expanded time reference, some plural NPs (including plural pronouns) can refer to both a generic superset and a more specific subset. 4 Crucially, the generic reading potentially includes the speaker and the hearer, whereas the arbitrary reading is always speaker and hearer exclusive. The French examples in (7), from Egerland (2003a:80-81), illustrate the difference (the specific we reading is also possible in both examples, as indicated): (7) a. On doit travailler jusqu a l age de 65 ans. (gen/spec) one must work until the age of 65 years One has to / We have to work until the age of 65. b. On a travaillé deux mois pour résoudre le problème. (arb/spec) one has worked two months to resolve the problem They/We worked for two months to resolve the problem. The English examples in (8) and (9) also illustrate the difference. First, we illustrate the generic reading, potentially including the speaker and the hearer: (8) a. To find the station you first turn to the right (or at least I always do). b. To find the station one first turns to the right (or at least I always do). The arbitrary reading, excluding the speaker and the hearer, is illustrated in (9): (9) They are on strike in the hotel (# or at least I am). As seen, the speaker can naturally proceed in (8) by adding a clause implying that he or she is included in the reference of the impersonal pronoun, whereas this does not make any sense in (9). Italian si, French on, German man, Swedish man, etc., can be both generic and arbitrary. Icelandic maður, in contrast can be generic but not arbitrary. This is illustrated in (10), which should be compared to (8) and (9) above: (10) a. Til að finna stöðina beygir maður fyrst til hægri. to find station.the turns.3sg one first to right b. * Ég heyrði í gærdag að maður sé í verkfalli á hótelinu. I heard in yesterday that one is.3sg in strike in hotel.the The same applies to Hungarian az ember, one (literally the man ), as illustrated in (11): 7 7 Valéria Molnár and Gréte Dalmi, p.c. The same is true of Serbo-Croatian ćovjek man (Željko Bošković, p.c.) and Slovenian èlouk, a colloquial form of èlovek man (Lanko Marušić, p.c.). This restriction is more categorial than some of the restrictions on Italian si, French on and Swedish man one discussed by Cinque (1988:542ff) 5 (11) a. Az embernek dolgoznia kell 65-éves koráig. (generic) the man.dat work.3sg must 65-years age-to One has to work until the age of 65. b. Az ember kénytelen pénzt keresni. (generic) the man.nom obliged money earn.3sg One must earn money. c. Azt mondták a rádioban hogy... (arbitrary) it said.3pl the radio-in that They said / It was said on the radio that... We will return to this important restriction. The specific reading is illustrated for French on in (12), from Egerland (2003a:84): (12) Hier soir on a été congédié. (specific) yesterday evening one has been fired We were fired yesterday evening. In Romance, the specific reading usually gets plural interpretation, we, and is thus sometimes referred as the (speaker) inclusive reading. In some other languages, the specific reading commonly refers to the speaker alone. This is no doubt the most central reading of both Icelandic specific maður and Swedish speaker inclusive man (cf. Jónsson 1992, Egerland 2003a, 2003b). The examples in (13) and (14) illustrate this: (13) Já, maður var óheppinn í gær. Icelandic yes, one was unlucky in yesterday Yes, I was unlucky yesterday. (specific / *arbitrary) (14) Ja, man hade otur igår. Swedish yes, one had bad-luck yesterday Yes, I was unlucky yesterday. (specific) / Yes, they were unlucky yesterday. (arbitrary) However, Icelandic maður and Swedish man may also have a specific 1PL interpretation, albeit less centrally. Given a context where one addresses a married couple, either one of the partners may answer with maður and man to refer to both of them: and Egerland (2003a, 2003b), but since the arbitrary reading is excluded for maður, az ember, ćovjek and èlouk it is difficult to make a detailed comparison of the languages in this respect, and we will not try to. 6 (15) Já, maður er búinn að vera saman ansi lengi. Icelandic yes, one is done to be together quite long Yes, we have been together for quite long. (16) Ja, man har varit ihop rätt länge. Swedish yes, one has been together quite long Yes, we have been together for quite long. In addition, both Icelandic maður and Swedish man (as also e.g. French on) can actually denote the addressee (or addressees), at least in nurseese (where one may also use the 1PL pronoun for the same purpose, much as in English). Imagine a situation where a nurse or a doctor enters a patient s room; in such a situation, they could naturally address the patient as in (17) and (18): (17) Hvernig hefur maður það þá í dag? Icelandic how has one it then to day How are you today, then? (18) Hur mår man idag då? Swedish how feels one today then How are you today, then? Specific 3 person reading is also possible for Swedish man, as in the following example: (19) Man är uppenbarligen inte gift. one is obviously not married He/She is / I am obviously not married. In contrast, the specific 3 person reading is excluded for Icelandic maður, as shown in (20): (20) Maður er augljóslega ekki giftur. one is obviously not married.masc.sg It is obvious that I am not married. / ok specific 1SG * He/She is obviously not married. * specific 3SG The reason why this is the case is that Icelandic maður cannot be both speaker and hearer 7 exclusive. 8 Evidently, the features that enter into the interpretation of impersonal pronouns, as well as of pronouns in general, include the following ones: (21) a. Generic = +human, b. Arbitrary = +human, speaker, hearer, ca. Specific, 1P = +human, +speaker, hearer, cb. Specific, 2P = +human, speaker, +hearer, cc. Specific, 3P = +human, speaker, hearer, +specific, The exact nature of third person specificity is not important here, so we simply use the term specific. We also abstract way from number/gender distinctions and certain other aspects of pronominal systems that are important in general but not relevant for our purposes. We adopt the fairly common generative view that feature combinations of this sort are syntactic. The universality of the features involved suggests that they belong to Universal Grammar, and there is clear evidence that the settings of the speaker and hearer feature values are computed in syntax. 9 Thus, we assume that N(P)s are hierarchic bundles of features, and that any argument minimally expresses some specification of the partial feature structure in (22) (where +/ θ distinguishes between expletive and nonexpletive NPs): 10 (22) N(P) αθ βhuman γspeaker δhearer Combining semantic-syntactic constellations of this sort with a CONCEPT ROOT yields a word, symbolized or signalled by an arbitrary string of sounds in PF. This is sketched for 8 Our description is based on Sigurðsson s intuitions and also in part on the description in Jónsson (1992). We believe the variety described here is a central one, and we are not aware of any radically different varieties. 9 That is, these features are variables within the NP (cf. Platzack 2004), valued in a matching relation with the speaker and hearer CP features, referred to as the logophoric agent/patient in Sigurðsson 2004a, 2004b (related ideas have recently been pursued by many other researchers, including Bianchi 2006 and Shlonsky 2008). 10 This is conceptually close to the approach in Heim & Kratzer (1998:244). We are not committed to any more specific claims about the internal structure of N(P)s, but, for more elaborated approaches, see, for instance Déchaine & Wiltschko (2002), Julien (2005). 8 arbitrary Swedish man in (23), where n is a silent noun forming head or feature: (23) N(P) transfer [man(n)] in PF +human to morphology and phonetics speaker hearer.. n (CONCEPT ROOT N ) The CONCEPT ROOT or the irreducible conceptual content of a word corresponds, roughly, to what Katz & Postal (1964:14) referred to as semantic distinguishers. An alternative approach is to assume that even words like helicopter and quantum particle can (or could) be exhaustively analyzed in terms of general semantic-syntactic features. However, what matters for our present purposes (see also Egerland 2003a) is only that purely grammatical words like Swedish impersonal man have exclusively syntactic semantics, consisting only of specific settings of syntactic features, like +HUMAN and SPEAKER (hence the parentheses around CONCEPT ROOT in (23)). 11 Equipped with the analysis in (21)-(23), we now turn to zero impersonals. 3. Icelandic impersonal null-subject constructions As mentioned in section 1, Icelandic impersonal null-subjects are largely confined to three morphologically specific constructions, sketched in (24), where the characteristic morphology is highlighted; as indicated, the finite verb is always in the 3 person singular in Icelandic null-subject constructions (and participles in the impersonal passive are exclusively neuter singular, NT.SG): (24) a. The impersonal passive: here is.3sg danced.nt.sg. b. The impersonal present participle construction: here is.3sg not dancing (= danceable ) c. The impersonal modal construction: here may.3sg not dance 11 There are reasons to believe that word structures are bundled up or packed together by successive roll-up movement (Sigurðsson 2006:220, 228f), but we will not discuss that issue here. 9 The corresponding Icelandic examples are given in (25): (25) a. Hér er dansað. here is.3sg danced.nt.sg People dance here. / There is dancing here. b. Hér er ekki dansandi. here is.3sg not dancing One cannot dance here. c. Hér má ekki dansa. here may.3sg not dance One is not allowed to dance here. As illustrated in (26), the plain verb dansa dance does not licence a zero impersonal all by itself: (26) * Hér dansar/dansa oft. here dance(s).3sg/3pl often This is a general pattern, that is, Icelandic zero impersonals are normally only licensed in the three constructions illustrated in (24)-(25), an issue we will return to in section A few remarks on these constructions are in place here. THE IMPERSONAL PASSIVE is a common (V2) Germanic trait, but it is more central and usual in Icelandic than in the other modern Germanic languages, as far as we can judge (see Sigurðsson 1989, Maling & Sigurjónsdóttir 2002). It basically applies to any intransitive unergative main verb, including transitive verbs when optionally intransitive and also including even aspectual verbs like vera be (progressive and durative, much like English be V-ing) and fara begin (literally go, leave, travel ) as well as some control verbs, like reyna try : (27) a. Hér er verið að dansa. here is been to dance People are dancing here / There is ongoing dancing here. b. Þá var farið að dansa. then
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