Anaphoric Preferences of Null and Overt Subjects in Italian and Spanish: a Cross-lingistic Comparison

Francesca Filiaci

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

This thesis focuses on the cross-linguistic differences between Italian and Spanish regarding the pragmatic restrictions on the resolution of null and overt subject pronouns (NS and OSP). It also tries to identify possible links between such cross- linguistic differences and morpho-syntactic differences at the level of the verbal morphology of the two languages.
Spanish and Italian are typologically related and morpho-syntactically similar and have been assumed to instantiate the same setting of the NS parameter with respect to not only its syntactic licensing conditions, but also the pragmatic constraints determining the distribution of null and overt subject pronouns, and this assumption has had important implications for cross-linguistic research. The first aim of this study was to test directly for the first time the assumption about the equivalence of Italian and Spanish; in order to do so, I run a series of self- paced reading experiments using the same materials translated in each language, so that the results were directly comparable. The experiments were based on Carminati's (2002) study on antecedent preferences for Italian NSs and OSPs in intra-sentential anaphora, testing the Position of Antecedent Strategy. The results suggest that while in Italian there is a strict division of labour between NS and OSP (confirming Carminati's findings), this division is not as clear-cut in Spanish. More precisely, while Italian personal pronouns unambiguously signal a switch in subject reference, the association between OSPs and switch reference seems to be much weaker in Spanish. These results, which are interpreted in terms of Cardinaletti and Starke's (1999) cross-linguistic typology of deficient pronouns, highlight an asymmetry between the strength of NS and OSP biases in Spanish that could not have emerged through the traditional methodology used by the numerous variationist studies on the subject, based on corpus analysis.
A subsequent pair of experiments tested the hypothesis that the cross-linguistic differences attested might be related to the relative syncretism of the Spanish verbal morphology compared to the Italian one with regard to the unambiguous expression of person features on the verbal head. The results only provided weak support for the hypothesis, although they did confirm the presence of the cross- linguistic differences in the processing and resolution of anaphoric NS and OSP dependencies revealed by the previous experiments.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


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