Pekka Posio

Gast des GRK im Jahr 2011

First person singular subjects and verbs in spoken European Portuguese and Peninsular Spanish

ErstbetreuerSeppo Kittilä, Prof. Dr.
ZweitbetreuerMaría José Serrano, Prof. Dr.

I defended my thesis entitled "Pronominal subjects in Peninsular Spanish and European Portuguese: semantics, pragmatics, and formulaic sequences" in November 2012. I am very grateful to the Graduiertenkolleg 1624 "Frequency effects" for having me as their guest in 2011.

The introduction of my thesis is available here: Below is the abstract of the completed work.

The expression of pronominal subjects by independent subject pronouns is considered optional in both Peninsular Spanish (PS) and European Portuguese (EP). The present dissertation examines and compares the factors affecting the expression vs. omission of subject pronouns in these two languages. The goals are to provide and compare empirical data from PS and EP, to present a theoretical account of the findings and to deepen the understanding of factors affecting subject pronoun use in languages with variable subject expression. The theoretical framework is cognitive-functional, usage-based linguistics. The four articles of the dissertation examine data from different speech corpora. The methodology combines qualitative examination with quantitative frequency analyses.

EP is shown to have a significantly higher general rate of expressed subjects than PS. In the first person singular, verb semantics affect subject expression in both languages: agentive verbs have a lower rate of expressed subjects while stative verbs have a higher rate. This tendency is connected with the focusing of attention on either the subject referent or on other participants in the event. In addition to this general tendency, subject expression in connection to the most frequently occurring verb tokens (i.e. I think , I say , I know ) deviates from the general pattern, causing differences between PS and EP. With frequently occurring verb tokens, subject expression has become formulaic, i.e. fixed as a part of the construction where it occurs.

While semantics and frequency effects affect subject expression in the first person singular, the first person plural differs between PS and EP in that in PS subject expression is rare and typically restricted to hearer-exclusive reference. In EP, subject expression is found with hearer-inclusive, hearer-exclusive and impersonal reading. In all grammatical persons, the postverbal placement of subject pronouns is shown to serve both contrasting and backgrounding functions. In EP the postverbal placement is mostly restricted to certain non-productive, formulaic sequences.

The study contributes to the discussion of variable subject expression in a wider typological and theoretical context. Previously null subject languages have been assumed to form a relatively homogeneous group where subject omission is the norm and expression is reserved for e.g. contrast and emphasis. It is shown that while the factors affecting subject expression may be similar, even closely related languages differ with regard to subject expression rates and subject expression in formulaic constructions.

SprachenSpanish, Portuguese
SchlüsselbegriffeSubject, pronouns, Spanish, Portuguese, Semantics, Pragmatics, Frequency, Formulaic language