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Control and arbitrary interpretation in English

Noriko Kawasaki, University of Massachusetts Amherst


When the subject of an infinitive or a gerund in English is phonetically null, the missing subject may behave as an anaphor and require an A-binder in a local domain, or may be A-free and be interpreted as a generic pronoun. Some speakers also allow the missing subject of an adjunct to have a specific referent without there being an A-binder. This thesis presents a unified analysis of missing subjects in English and examines some of its consequences. Borer (1989) argues that the position of a missing subject in English is occupied by pro, a pronominal without phonetic content. Pro is licensed by an anaphoric AGR, which is raised to C and finds an antecedent in the next clause up. Pro, coindexed with AGR, is thus coindexed with the antecedent. Her analysis explains the cases where missing subjects exhibit the anaphoric property. I propose (i) that pro is interpreted as a generic pronoun when the anaphoric AGR is not raised and does not have an antecedent other that pro itself, and (ii) that, in general, the interpretation as a generic pronoun is assigned to pro when it cannot inherit $\phi$-features from its licenser. This analysis extends to pro in the object position in Italian and the subject position in Finnish. The missing subjects in sentences as "To see him is to love him" and "To love is to exalt" need not be projected as a noun phrase in the phrase structure. Thus, the Projection Principle and the $\theta$-Criterion proposed by Chomsky (1981) cannot be maintained. In sentences other than this construction, missing subjects (and missing objects) must be projected as phonetically null noun phrases because the clause would otherwise denote a property or a relation, and the tense or the modality of INFL can be combined only with propositions. A missing subject with a specific referent that is not A-bound refers to the topic of the sentence. To explain control by topic, I adopt and modify Reinhart's (1982) proposal that the sentence topic is the address in the common ground of conversation where the sentence is assessed and stored.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Kawasaki, Noriko, "Control and arbitrary interpretation in English" (1993). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9316677.