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  • The PERSON restriction on periphrastic irrealis complementizers and the interpretation of subject pro
  • Hailey Hyekyeong Ceong

1. Introduction

This squib demonstrates that in Korean, depending on the selectional relations between tense and complementizers, and the restriction on the subject under certain complementizers, first- and second-person subjects can be dropped without being construed with a discourse topic. Therefore, the contents of pro are not always recovered in the same way in discourse-oriented null subject languages (Huang 1984, Holmberg et al. 2009, Barbosa 2011).

The morphosyntactic contexts in which the person of a pro subject can only be interpreted as a discourse participant are shown in (1).1 The well-formed clauses in (1) are marked by l-key and l-lay – what I call periphrastic irrealis complementizers consisting of irrealis l plus complementizer key or lay – which enables pro-drop, where pro must be understood as first person in (1a) and (1b) and second person in (1c).2 [End Page 753]


Unlike -key, which can only introduce assertions, as in (1a), -lay can introduce either assertions (with an unmarked falling intonation), as in (1b), or questions (with ↑ rising intonation), as in (1c). Assuming that the null subject in (1) is syntactically present, the goals of this squib are to describe the morphosyntactic contexts of pro-drop in (1), and to show that the content of the null subject, particularly with respect to person, is restricted by the morphosyntactic markers -l-key and -l-lay.3 By showing that the null subject must be a restricted element under these T-C combinations, I argue that pro-drop can be enabled by an irrealis C element selecting an irrealis T element in Korean, although the analysis of exactly how irrealis T-C licenses person features on the null subject will be a subject for future research. There are two sources of evidence to support this claim: (i) Constraints on the interpretation of null subjects, as illustrated in (1), and (ii) a ban on third-person referents as the subject of l-key and l-lay clauses; this restriction limits the interpretation of full DPs to either the speaker or the addressee.

This squib is organized as follows: after briefly introducing some core properties of Korean pronouns and complementizers in section 2, section 3 discusses the prohibition of third-person referents in l-key and l-lay clauses. Section 4 briefly reviews two null-subject licensing conditions that have been proposed for Korean. Section 5 discusses the compositionality of periphrastic irrealis complementizers and section 6 offers some conclusions.

2. Person in concord with matrix complementizers

Although Korean has various personal pronouns and their usage is pragmatically restricted, pronouns tend to be dropped when the referent is a speech act participant. For instance, semantically any first-person pronoun, including nay 'I', cey 'I (humble)', wuli 'we', and cehuy 'we (humble)', can be an overt subject in the clause in (2), yet only nay 'I' and wuli 'we' are simultaneously syntactically and pragmatically well-formed. The pragmatically ill-formed pronouns cey 'I (humble)' and cehuy 'we (humble)' are indicated by "#".


[End Page 754]

The person restriction and the interpretation of subject pro discussed in this squib are irrelevant to the pragmatic properties of pronouns and complementizers, because all of the pragmatically ill- and well-formed subject pronouns in (2) must carry [+1st, –2nd].

Korean is a head-final language with complementizers in the right periphery; the basic order of a canonical clause is SOV. T and C elements are all morphological suffixes that attach to verb stems (i.e., V-T-CTYPE-(CINDIRECT)). Each morphophonological spellout of CTYPE is associated both with syntactic properties (i.e., clause-type distinctions) and with pragmatic properties (i.e., speech style distinctions) (see Ceong 2019 and references cited there). In this squib, I focus on the morphosyntactic properties of complementizers – their clause-typing properties and compatibility with other functional elements – rather than on their precise semantic and pragmatic functions.

3. The ban on third-person subjects and constraints on the interpretation of full DPs

In addition to the fixed interpretation of the person of null pro described...


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