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Reducing pro and PRO to a single source

Thomas McFadden and Sandhya Sundaresan
From the journal The Linguistic Review


The goal of this paper is to provide novel theoretical and empirical evidence that the null subjects traditionally labelled as pro and pro, rather than being inherently distinct, are manifestations, differentiated in the course of the derivation, of what is underlyingly a single underspecified nominal pro-form, which we will call UPro. Included under this UPro are pro, ocpro and also the various types of ‘non-obligatory control’ (noc) pro, including arbitrary pro (proarb). The interpretive and distributional distinctions lurking behind these labels result from how UPro interacts with its structural environment and language-specific rules of morpho-phonological realization. Specifically, ocpro labels a rather specific interpretation that arises in embedding contexts where a syntactic oc relationship with an antecedent can be established. Different types of pro and nocpro, on the other hand, involve ‘control’ by (typically) silent representations of discourse-contextual elements in the clausal left periphery. Finally, proarb arguably involves the failure to establish a referential dependence, which we will formalize in terms of a failure to Agree in the sense of Preminger (2014). Crucial evidence motivating the approach proposed here will be adduced from Sundaresan’s (2014) “Finiteness pro-drop Generalisation”, which reveals an otherwise unexpected complementarity of ocpro and pro.


We would like to thank audiences at NELS 46, the Pronouns workshop in Salvador (Bahia), GLOW 39, the MaTüBe Workshop Komplexe Sätze at ZAS and the Linguistics Colloquium in Göttingen for very helpful discussion of earlier versions of the work presented here, especially Hedde Zeijlstra and Idan Landau. We are also extremely grateful to Rob Truswell and an anonymous TLR reviewer for insightful and constructive critiques and suggestions on an earlier draft.


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Article note

The authors are both responsible in equal measure for the work presented here and appear in alphabetical order.

Published Online: 2018-09-11
Published in Print: 2018-09-25

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