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  • New Evidence for the Structural Realization of the Implicit External Argument in Nominalizations
  • Ivy Sichel

1 Implicit External Arguments in Nominalizations

The crosslinguistic optionality of realizing external arguments in nominalizations has led many to conclude that they are not arguments and that when implicit they are not syntactically realized (for a variety of related views, see Williams 1987, Dowty 1989, Grimshaw 1990, Kratzer 1996, Engelhardt 2000, Alexiadou 2001, Culicover and Jackendoff 2001). Since only arguments can be structurally realized when covert, a decisive argument in favor of the structural realization of the implicit agent makes a particularly strong case for its status as an argument. While the implicit agent in nouns and nominalizations has been studied extensively, a firm conclusion still seems to be pending, owing, to a significant extent, to disagreement regarding the syntactic [End Page 712] status of the diagnostics that have been used.1 In support of previous claims for a structurally realized implicit agent (Roeper 1987, 1993, 2004, Giorgi and Longobardi 1991, Longobardi 2001, Sichel, to appear), I argue here that the agent also acts as an A-binder for null R-expressions and that these disjointness effects must have a syntactic source. Principle C effects with overt R-expressions, for example, are amenable to a pragmatic analysis along the lines of the Coreference Rule (Reinhart 1983, Grodzinsky and Reinhart 1993) and are therefore susceptible to the objection that the diagnostic does not necessarily track a syntactic relation. In contrast, I argue below that Principle C effects induced by an empty category must be syntactic. It follows that the implicit binder is structurally realized.

The argument developed here focuses on null impersonal subjects in Hebrew, in finite clauses embedded within nominalizations. The diagnostic capitalizes on the partial pro-drop paradigm attested in Hebrew, and in this respect the conclusions reached are construction-specific and language-particular. However, given the generality of the claim that external arguments in the verbal domain are never true arguments in the nominal domain, it is sufficient that some construction in some language shows clear syntactic effects, consistent with the view that this may not be a universal property of all nominals derived from transitive verbs (see Alexiadou, Anagnostopoulou, and Schäfer 2008 for recent discussion). Section 2 sets up the argument from Principle C by motivating the analysis of impersonal null subjects as null R-expressions. Section 3 shows that Principle C effects persist in nominalizations with implicit external arguments and argues for the structural representation of the latter as a pronominal empty category.

2 Null Impersonal Subjects as Null R-Expressions

Null impersonal subjects are found in finite clauses in fully pro-drop languages such as Spanish (Suñer 1983, Jaeggli 1986) and Italian (Cinque 1988), and also in Hebrew (Shlonsky 1997, Borer 1998). They induce 3rd person plural agreement on the verb, and in episodic contexts such as the following, they may receive an existential interpretation:

  1. 1.

    1. a. Spanish

      Llaman a la puerta. at the door

      ‘Someone is calling at the door.’ [End Page 713]

    2. b. Italian

      Prima, hanno telefonato; mi pareva tua sorella.

      earlier telephoned me seems your sister

      ‘There was a phone call earlier; I think it was your sister.’

    3. c. Hebrew

      Dafku ba-delet. at.the-door

      ‘Someone knocked at the door.’

Borer (1998) demonstrates that the distribution of interpretations associated with the null impersonal subject in Hebrew is similar to their distribution in Italian and Spanish. The existential interpretation is restricted to null subjects that are external arguments, and the generic interpretation is available for all argument types, including the null impersonal subjects of passives, unaccusatives, and raising predicates. The argument developed below focuses on the existential impersonal subject. Borer (1998) observes that when an existential null subject is embedded under another one, the result is grammatical only if the two existential interpretations are not identical.2 The nonidentity associated with the existential null subject in the embedded clause sharply contrasts with obligatory control when the complement is an infinitive, (2b), on a par with English, (2c). Further examples of existential nonidentity are given in (3).3

  1. 2.

    1. a. Omrim še-potxim et ha-ša’ar be-arba...


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