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Null Arguments in English Registers: A Minimalist Account

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Document pages: 74 pages

Abstract: The syntax of null arguments in the diary and instructional registers of English is investigated in a Minimalist framework. The first unified analysis of null arguments in the two registers is given. Following Haegeman (1996, 1997) and Rizzi (1997) the null argument in these registers is analysed as an antecedentless nonvariable DP (‘ec’) which is licensed only in the leftmost position of the clause. In clauses with such null arguments, a TopP (topic phrase) is posited as the highest projection. The head of this projection is taken to have a [D-] feature. The licensing requirement of ec ensures that it must raise to check the [D-] feature of the topic head, enabling ec to be identified with the discourse topic; if there is any closer [D] feature, then ec will not raise and it will fail to be licensed, causing the derivation to crash. It is shown that the distribution of ec in diaries and instructions can be captured on these assumptions. In each case where ec is ungrammatical, it is shown that some element with a [D] feature intervenes between ec and TopP, preventing ec from raising to a position where it can be licensed. Telegraphese, note-taking and headlinese, other registers of English which also exhibit null arguments, are then investigated to see if the analysis also extends to these cases. It is argued that the analysis cannot fully account for null arguments in these registers. However, subject drop in colloquial speech is demonstrated to be an instance of the same phenomenon, suggesting that null arguments, and in particular null subjects, are a general possibility in English rather than a marked phenomenon.

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