NULL OBJECTS IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH * SARAH CUMMINS & YVES ROBERGE Université Laval University of Toronto - PDF

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NULL OBJECTS IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH * SARAH CUMMINS & YVES ROBERGE Université Laval University of Toronto 1. Introduction An important subject-object asymmetry in generative grammar has been the obligatory

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NULL OBJECTS IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH * SARAH CUMMINS & YVES ROBERGE Université Laval University of Toronto 1. Introduction An important subject-object asymmetry in generative grammar has been the obligatory projection of a subject position (by the EPP or a feature of the inflectional layer of the clause) but not of an object position. Projection of an object position was considered to depend on lexical characteristics of the verb. However, languages seem to allow a wide range of possibilities for conventionally intransitive verbs to appear with a direct object (as illustrated for French and English in (1)), and for conventionally transitive verbs to appear without a phonologically realized direct object (2). 1 (1) a. Elle précisa qu'elle le mangerait «tout complètement», feula des baisers à blanc et raccrocha. (L:110) She added that she would eat him all up, growled air kisses, and hung up. b. Si Mike commence à bafouiller ses tirs, la sauce commence à prendre avec ses partenaires. (L:113) While Mike is beginning to splutter his shots, things are coming together for his teammates. c. Just how far the argument has come since Archie bellowed his brand of bigotry is evident in the first episode of 704 Hauser Street. (ECP) d. Two young German women wept tears of shame for their country as the car left. (ECP) (2) a. La lune, si t'y mets une porte et tu regardes la nuit, tu peux être fier de ton boulot.(gourio:153) If you put a door on the moon and you watch at night, you can be proud of your work. * We would like to thank Denis Bouchard, Diane Massam, Philippe Prévost, Michelle Troberg three anonymous reviewers and the members of the Asymmetry Project. This work is supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Di Sciullo ). 1 Abbreviations: L: Larjavaara (2000); GP: García Velasco & Portero-Muñoz (2002); ECP: English Canadian Press (newspaper corpus); PCF: Presse canadienne française (newspaper corpus); BNC: British National Corpus (general corpus). 2 b. C'est pas lui qui l'a écrit, son livre, le pape, c'est quelqu'un qui lui écrit... (Gourio:153) The Pope didn't write his book himself, someone writes for him. c. Why then do the psychic gifts often seem to tease, confuse and obstruct? (BNC) d. This is a rhetorical platitude that presents the posture of a freedom fighter, when really it's the same old argument: Don't bite the hand that feeds. (Toronto Globe & Mail) These possibilities cannot be attributed solely to lexical properties of the verb; if this were the case, certain verbs would always be able to appear without their objects regardless of the construction or discourse context, and others would never be able to appear without an object. As we will show, this is not the case. Rather, following Roberge (2003), we propose that null or implicit objects can be attributed to a Transitivity Requirement (TR) just as null subjects are ultimately due to the EPP. Recoverability for the EPP is morphologically based, as is evident in null subject languages, while recoverability involving the TR may also be semantically and pragmatically based; as we will show below, such recovery may be based on information derived from the verb's lexical semantics and Generalised Conversational Implicatures (formalised as in Levinson 2000) involved in the interpretation of reduced nominal forms. The factors that contribute to licensing superficial intransitivity the absence of an overt object may include lexical semantics, functional elements, discourse factors, and trans-clausal structural elements. This view is supported by a comparative study of null object possibilities in French and English. 2. On transitivity The concept of transitivity has been interpreted as a continuum in certain works, and a distinction has been proposed between syntactic transitivity and semantic transitivity; see, among many others, Blinkenberg (1960), Desclés (1998), Hopper et Thompson (1980), Lazard (1994). Surprisingly little is ever said about the object position itself. The hypothesis in Roberge (2003) is that there exists a Transitivity Requirement (TR), whereby an object position is always included in VP, independently of the lexical choice of V. The empirical motivation of this hypothesis is the well documented evidence (see in particular Blinkenberg (1960), Larjavaara (2000)) that any transitive verb has the potential to appear without a direct object and any unergative verb has the potential to appear with a direct object. To account for these facts, there must be a mechanism to generate the direct-object position, either optionally or obligatorily. The TR represents the second, more restrictive, possibility and conveys the concept of transitivity as a property of the predicate (the VP), rather than as a property of the lexical content of V. The TR is the internal-argument counterpart to the EPP. In other words, the configuration in (3) order irrelevant is given by UG: 3 (3) V 2 V Obj The TR is similar to the EPP in that (1) it targets a position and not necessarily the nature of the element occupying this position; (2) the end result varies depending on lexical choice and the merger and movement operations involved in the derivation. It differs from the EPP in that (1) it does not target a Spec position; (2) it is active in the thematic layer of the clause rather than the inflectional layer. For the purpose of our discussion, we define unexpressed objects interpretatively: there is an x such that x is (1) phonologically null, (2) involved in the event denoted by the VP, and (3) not an external argument Towards a typology of null objects Two recent studies Larjavaara (2000) on French and García Velasco & Portero Muñoz (2002) on English address the issue of null objects (NOs) comprehensively, while taking account of previous work on this topic. The findings of these two studies show clear similarities between the two languages. Both studies distinguish two types of objects: GP call the two types indefinite and definite null objects, while L refers to generic and latent null objects. Examples of the two types are illustrated in (4) and (5): (4) indefinite/generic a. Do you write? (GP) b. Wild Guns est un jeu qui défoule. (L:88) Wild Guns is a game that destresses. (5) definite/latent a. Do you like? I love! (GP) b. «Tu as lu les pages?» Il avait lu. (L:43) Did you read the pages? He had read. Both studies note characteristics of one or the other type. GP point out that definite objects are typically a non-first-order entity; L notes that the latent object often has propositional content. The two agree that indefinite or generic null objects do not have a contextually available referent. GP point out that generic null objects can give rise to an activity rather than an accomplishment reading of the verb; L notes that null objects can focus attention on the activity. Both point out that the lexical characteristics of the verb can help to identify the referent of the null object. GP note that null objects are often found in fixed phrases, while L describes a wider context of de-actualisation as being 2 Note that this definition correctly excludes empty object positions that are directly linked to an element in external argument position such as in passives, unaccusatives and perhaps middles. However, it leaves open to a null object interpretation an eventual unexpressed object position in unergative VPs. The definition also includes null oblique objects, although we will not discuss them here. 4 favourable to null objects. And both note several structural contexts that favour a nonovert object. These contexts are summarized and illustrated in (6) to (12). (6) sequences of verbs a. He will steal, rob, and murder. (GP) b. Elles ont caressé, pétri, étreint, pénétré... (L:97) They have caressed, kneaded, clasped, penetrated. (7) imperatives a. Push hard. (GP:) b. Fais voir. (L:50) Show. (8) contrastive uses a. He theorises about language, but I just describe. (GP:) b. Seulement moi, je n'assassine pas, je ressuscite. (L:91) Only I don't murder, I resuscitate. (9) infinitive a. This is a lovely guitar, with an uncanny ability to impress and delight. (BNC) b. Pour compenser, j'ai décidé d'adopter dorénavant cette graphie. (L:85) To compensate, I have decided to use that spelling from now on. (10) generic present tense a. There are those who annihilate with violence who devour. (BNC) b. Un peintre dérange bien moins qu'un écrivain. (L:83) A painter disturbs much less than a writer. (11) dative pronoun (French) J'étais où quand tu lui avais donné? (L:39) Where was I when you gave to him? (12) ça as subject (French) Ça flingue à tout va là-dedans. (L:91) They're shooting like crazy in there. In a third study, Goldberg (2001) investigates unexpressed objects of causative verbs (those that entail a change of state in the patient argument) in English. She concludes that the option of leaving these arguments unexpressed depends largely on factors relating to information structure: the unexpressed object is typically neither topical nor focal, and the verb is emphasized somehow, by being iterative or generic, by being contrasted with another verb, or by having a narrow focus. 5 All of these authors implicitly or explicitly adopt the position that the missing argument is not syntactically represented: syntactically the verb is intransitive. In a generative framework, this position finds a counterpart in Rizzi (1986: ), who proposes that both the arbitrary third-person human interpretation, meaning people in general or some people, and the prototypical-object interpretation, where the verb's lexical semantics identify the object, are available lexically to saturate the argument's theta role and block projection. Thus, the verbs are intransitive in syntax. The absence of a syntactic object explains why, in Rizzi s account, the type of sentence exemplified in (13) is impossible in English: there is no object that can bind the anaphor or be modified by the adjective. However, such sentences are grammatical in Romance; hence several accounts (Rizzi 1986; Authier 1989; Roberge 1991) posit a syntactically present null object. (13) a. Ce gouvernement rend malheureux. * This government makes unhappy. b. Une bonne bière reconcilie avec soi-même. * A good beer reconciles with oneself. Under the TR, the object position is projected and the verb remains transitive in syntax in both English and French. Although we do not find sentences like those in (13) in English (as shown by the ungrammaticality of the glosses), there is nonetheless evidence that a null object has an effect on syntax in both English and French. 3 For example, null objects can enter into a network of relationships with compatible pronouns, and sometimes require coreference, either with pronouns or with another null object. (14) a. Ce roman amuse quand on le prend avec humour. This novel amuses if one takes it with a sense of humour. b. Qui aime bien châtie bien. Who loves well punishes well. c. His attitude intimidates, until you figure out he's a phony. d. It's better to reuse than to recycle. Null objects can serve as the argument of a secondary predicate: (15) a. Les steaks, moi, je préfère manger saignant. Steaks, I like to eat rare. b. Vous avez acheté en solde? Did you buy on sale? c. Beat until thick and lemon-coloured. 3 The TR redefines the notion of NO and broadens the range of phenomenon it subsumes. It is beyond the scope of this paper to deal with all of them; we will not explore here the structure exemplified in (13) or attempt to explain the differences it highlights between Romance languages and English. Moreover, we do not investigate NOs with clausal or propositional characteristics. 6 A syntactically-represented null object is required to account for the availability of a parasitic gap interpretation for sentences such as (16). (16) Which document did the spy memorize before eating? This shows the necessity, even under a lexical account, of projecting an empty argument position. A lexical account, moreover, would require three mapping patterns for verbs such as eat: transitive with overt object, transitive with null object, and intransitive, for the prototypical-object or activity reading. Lastly, a null object can receive further specification. (17a) shows further specification of the NO of a transitive verb, while (17b) shows an attempt to further specify the argument of an unaccusative. The result is uninterpretable, presumably because the argument has moved. The impulse is to try to interpret (17b) as a transitive to supply a null object. (17) a. C'est une chose si douce que de louer, et surtout ses amis. (L:82) To praise is such a sweet thing, and especially one's friends. b. *C'est une chose si difficile que de partir, et surtout ses amis. To depart is such a difficult thing, and especially one's friends. These facts argue against both the lexical and the constructional accounts, which treat such sentences as objectless. Rizzi's (1986) general discussion also leaves unexplained instances of null objects that receive neither the arbitrary human nor the prototypical object interpretation, such as those in (18). Instead, elements of the linguistic and extralinguistic context come into play. It seems obvious that such information is not part of the lexical entry of the verb. (18) a. Lifting his arm to strike, he felt a grip of iron around his wrist, restraining him. (BNC) b. On voit que ce n'est pas lui qui lave. (L:86) You can tell he's not the one who washes. c. M. Jospin, maintenant, régularisez. (protesters' banner referring to the situation of immigrants without papers) (L: 55) Mr. Jospin, now, regularize. d. When you don't have money and you have to work hard to accomplish in life, it's not that easy to just throw it down... (Toronto Globe&Mail) Moreover, if the absence of an overt object could be explained entirely in semantic and pragmatic terms, we would expect English and French null objects to be substantially the same. But in fact, there is a subset of L's latent objects in French that have no counterpart in English. Examples are shown in (19). In these cases, there is a specific linguistic referent in the context, and the only interpretation is that this antecedent is the referent of the null object. 7 (19) a. On lui tendit une main...vexé, il négligea. (L: 48) A hand was extended to him. Annoyed, *he ignored. b. Si un mec t'offre un café balance lui à travers la gueule. (L:50) If a guy offers you a coffee, *throw in his face. c. Nikel m'a dit de prendre une boîte bleue dans le vestiaire. J_ 'ai prise. (L:59) Nikel told me to take a blue box from the locker. *I took. These absent objects, which are taken as definite and referential, resemble null arguments discussed by Huang (1984), Farrell (1990), Cardinaletti (1990), among others, and analysed as variables bound by a null topic or as null pronouns. In either case, the object is taken to be syntactically present. This is the position we adopt for the full range of null objects in French and English, by virtue of the TR, and we turn now to the issue of how these null objects are licensed and recovered. 4. Recoverability of NOs Null objects are diverse, and so are the means of their recovery. We propose that there are three means of recovering the identity or reference of NOs: (1) internally, through material in IP; (2) through discourse, involving referential NOs; and (3) by binding from the left periphery, i.e by a topic. We take up each of these in turn. 4.1 Internally-licensed NOs All of GP's understood objects, all of Goldberg's omitted arguments, all of L's generic absent objects and many of her latent absent objects can be considered to be internally-licensed, recovered through material in the IP. A primary means of recovery comes from lexical characteristics of the verb, as with the true prototypical object interpretation. Note that the prototypical object of psychological verbs, which are commonly found with NOs in both English and French, is in fact the arbitrary thirdperson affected human interpretation (see (13) above). (20) a. La magie des séries, c'est de surprendre, de dépayser. (L:98) The magic of the playoffs is in surprising, disorienting. b. Where Boulestin never falters or misleads is in the sureness of his taste and the sobriety of his ingredients. (BNC) c....the patter of the camp, grey-haired one between songs can irritate. (BNC) The identity of lexically-determined NOs can range from the vaguely predictable, as in (21a) ( the area around me ); to the narrowly determined, as in (21b) (a paper or envelope); to the entirely predictable, as in (21c) semantically, the only possible object of déciller is eyes. Examples (21a) and (21b) thus illustrate how the lexical-semantic contribution from the verb may be augmented by information from the linguistic and extralinguistic context, while (21c) shows an entirely lexical contribution. (21) a. «Ben, qu'est-ce que tu fais?» J'explore. (L:83) Hey, what are you doing? I'm exploring. 8 b. Dans ma hâte à décacheter, j'ai déchiré la feuille. (L:76) In my haste to unseal, I tore the page. c. Crystal claqua dans ses mains. On décilla. (L:54) Crystal clapped his hands. We opened. The internally-licensed NO is not formally linked to another linguistic element. It does not refer; it is not an anaphor and it is not in a relationship with a [+specific] nominal; in L s and GP s canonical cases, moreover, there is no contextually available referent. In English, when a referential interpretation is forced, a null object is impossible, as in (22), while in a similar context but without forcing reference, the null object is fine, as in (23). (22) a. What happened to that carrot? *I chopped. (Goldberg 2001:512) b. The door is open. *Didn't you lock? (23) a. What happened to all the vegetables? Well, Jacques has been chopping and dicing all afternoon. b. (pulling out of the driveway) Did you lock? Because the internally-licensed NO does not refer and is not anaphoric, pragmatics has a free hand in interpretation, and contextual factors can contribute to the inference of a specific reference. In fact, according to Levinson's I-principle (2000: 114), based on Grice's (1975) maxim of informativeness, hearers will seek out a maximally pertinent interpretation of such NOs, assuming rich connections with contextual information. This is illustrated by the sentences in (24). (24) a. We have to get rid of all the ugly dishes before your date arrives. Okay, you wash and I'll dry. (Goldberg 2001:515) b. Allez, envoie. (L :50) Come on, hand it over. c. I'll introduce. (one host to another before a talk) d. Même avec trois cuillerées de sucre en poudre, le breuvage reste amer. Leroy touille en comptant les miettes sur la toile cirée. (L:49) Even with three spoonfuls of sugar, the drink still tastes bitter. Leroy stirs, counting the crumbs on the oilcloth. Other factors that enhance recoverability are found within IP. These include the factors that contribute to de-actualisation, such as the generic present tense, the infinitive, ça as subject; see (6)-(12) above. Tenseless verb forms and non-referential tenses favour a nonreferential reading, while referential tenses, such as perfectives, favour a specific, referential reading. Although the correspondence is not perfect in either English or French (non-referential NOs are attested in sentences with, for example, perfective tenses), there is a clear tendency to associate specific, referential entities with specific events set at a 9 specific time; for this reason non-referential NOs can be less felicitous with referential tenses. The internally-licensed NO can be described as a null cognate object (NCO). Overt cognate objects, if unmodified, add no semantic information beyond that contained in the verb itself. The null cognate object is similar, a
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