Optionally Null: Deriving Properties of Russian Embedded Subjects (Syntax Colloquium)

Inna Livitz (NYU)
Event time: 
Friday, January 25, 2013 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dow Hall (Room 201) See map
370 Temple Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

In Russian, overt pronouns appear to alternate freely with null pronouns (ec) in both finite and infinitival embedded clauses.

(1) Finite
Petja skazal, čto ec/on kupit mašinu.
Petja said that ec/he.nom will-buy.3sg car
‘Petjai said that hei will buy a car.’

(2) Infinitival
Petjai znaet kak ec/emu vyigrat’ vybory
Petja knows how ec/he.dat win.inf election
‘Petjai knows how hei can win the election.’

However, while the overt pronouns in (1) and (2) are free to refer to another individual in the discourse, the null pronouns are referentially dependent on the matrix subject. The null subject in (1) has been argued, moreover, to be an instance of Control (Tsedryk 2012), parallel to the null subject of the infinitival clause in (2).

In this talk, I relate the alternation to (1) and (2) to the aforementioned difference in the interpretation of null and overt pronouns. I argue that silence is not an inherent, but a derived property of pronouns that follows from the interaction of a pronoun’s features with clausal functional heads. I propose that silent, referentially dependent pronouns in (1) and (2) are indicative of an Agree relation (Chomsky 2000, 2001) linking the embedded subject with its antecedent and mediated by the embedded C(omplementizer). Combining the notion of defective goal from Roberts (2010) with Landau’s (2004, 2008) Agree-based theory of Control, I propose that this Agree relation derives both the referential dependence and silence of an embedded subject.

Event Type: 
Lunch Talks