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Null subjects in Old English

  • George Walkden (a1)

Abstract

The possibility of referential null subjects in Old English has been the subject of conflicting assertions. Hulk and van Kemenade (1995:245) stated that “the phenomenon of referential pro-drop does not exist in Old English,” but van Gelderen (2000:137) claimed that “Old English has pro-drop.” This paper presents a systematic quantitative investigation of referential null subjects in Old English, drawing on the York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose (YCOE; Taylor, Warner, Pintzuk, & Beths, 2003) and the York-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Poetry (YCOEP; Pintzuk & Plug, 2001). The results indicate substantial variation between texts. In those texts that systematically exhibit null subjects, these are much rarer in subordinate clauses, with first- and second-person null subjects also being rare. I argue that the theory of identification of null subjects by rich verbal agreement is not sufficient to explain the Old English phenomenon, and instead I develop an account based on Holmberg's (2010) analysis of partial null subject languages.

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Null subjects in Old English

  • George Walkden (a1)

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