- Pronouns, clitics and empty nouns: ‘Pronominality’ and licensing in syntax by Phoevos Panagiotidis
The main topic of this book is the minimalist syntax of pronouns, with a special focus on clitics and null pronominals. Steven Abney (The English noun phrase in its sentential aspect, Cambridge, MA: MIT dissertation, 1987) proposed that pronouns should be treated as a special case of functional heads, namely as intransitive determiners. Panagiotidis offers a detailed and systematic refutation of Abney’s proposal and claims that determiners, like all functional heads, necessarily have a lexical head inside their complement. As a matter of fact, all pronominals involve an empty noun, which should be treated as a noun head listed in the lexicon. Pronominality is nothing but the lack of descriptive content of a noun. Pronominal reference is a last resort interpretive strategy when the noun does not denote a concept. When a DP contains a [+ pronominal] feature, it is interpreted as a semantic variable at logical form. This class of nondescriptive or empty pronouns can be phonologically overt (like Japanese kare or English one) or covert (like the null nominal in ‘pronominal’ we/us, etc.). This characteristic explains the behavior of nominal ellipsis in DPs, clitic placement, and indefinite argument drop, as argued in the second chapter of the book. For example, the mixed nature of pronominal clitics (as heads and maximal projections) can be viewed as the byproduct of a two-step derivational operation in which different heads and their features are involved. Indefinite argument drop in Greek can also be described as a radical form of noun ellipsis which differs from clitic DPs only in the indefinite nature of the determiner.
In the third and fourth chapters, P expands the empty-noun analysis to determine the status of null pronominals (pro). His main aims are to establish the fact that licensed and identified null pronominals such as pro have no place in a parsimonious theory of grammar and to explore the limits of the distribution of empty nouns and their triggering pronominal reference. Building on some recent accounts of the extended projection principle (EPP) in terms of feature checking, P proposes that the head relevant for the EPP is not agreement, a head carrying only uninterpretable features, but a verbal-determiner head DV, which is in turn complemented by a verbal number phrase. Languages like English have only null ‘strong’ DV. Null subject languages like Spanish and Greek have overt DV which encodes a strong verbal feature that makes it behave as a suffix with the verb left-adjoining to it. Null subjects are pronominal because there is no concept-denoting noun involved. Since DV and verbal number are functional heads belonging to the extended projection of a verb, they are properly licensed having their uninterpretable categorial features checked by the verb at logical form.
In general, P defends the notion that functional heads are parasitic on lexical ones inside derivations and together they form extended projections. It follows that lexical heads license functional heads, contra what is commonly supposed. The author claims that this idea is more consistent with minimalist proposals because lexical heads provide the feature checker that functional heads need for their uninterpretable categorial feature. Furthermore, this view of pronouns and functional categories delivers another blow to the classical typology of empty categories based on properties such as ‘pronominal’ or ‘anaphoric’. Traces and empty nouns are not as ‘empty’ as previously thought, and categories such as pro should be better viewed either as verbal determiners or empty nouns. Consequently, no ad hoc representational licensing and identification mechanisms are required for pronominal entities in general.
In sum, this book will definitively be of interest to scholars working in the minimalist program, especially those with a crosslinguistic comparative orientation. P spells out different predictions for languages such as Greek, Romance, Chinese, and Japanese, with careful attention to recent proposals related to DP structure, clitic movement, or the EPP. Unfortunately, the argumentation is difficult to follow at times...