Old Norwegian examples are taken from the PROIEL treebank, http://foni.uio.no:3000. The examples are identified by their sentence ID.
Investigated charters from Diplomatarium Norvegicum (volume, number and year):
I 415 1371, III 374 1371, I 420 1372, II 423 1372, V 281 1375, II 442 1375, II 436 1375. V 296 1376, V 297 1376, II 449 1377, I 446 1377, I 445 1377, VII 301 1378, V 313 1379, II 484 1384, I 502 1386, VI 327 1388, IV 571 1389, III 487 1390, IV 599 1391, II 535 1393, V 387 1399, V 423 1402, IV 737 1404, IX 200 1404, III 588 1408, I 615 1408, II 614 1410, III 604 1411, III 610 1412, III 605 1412, V 518 1416, V 531 1419, X 132 1419, I 685 1422, V 570 1424, II 680 1424, II 681 1424, I 692 1424, XI 142 1424, II 683 1425, V 603 1431, XI 151 1431, VIII 286 1431, I 738 1432, I 740 1432, V 609 1432, II 710 1432, II 709 1432, VI 447 1433, II 722 1436, VIII 298 1436, II 727 1437, I 777 1441, II 752 1443, VI 504 1447, VI 506 1447, V 754 1448, VIII 334 1448, XI 192 1450, II 792 1451, IV 932 1454, I 841 1457, II 817 1457, X 217 1457, II 820 1457, V 821 1459, XXI 503 1459, XI 211 1460, IX 358 1460, IV 950 1461, I 859 1462, II 846 1462, IX 341 1462, I 862 1463, VII 466 1466, II 863 1466, I 885 1468, I 886 1468, IV 974 1472, XI 235 1474, V 900 1477, VIII 405 1478, VII 488 1481, XI 249 1482, II 923 1483, IV 998 1484, VIII 414 1486, II 933 1486, I 953 1488, II 946 1488, III 970 1489, VI 610 1490, VIII 427 1490, VI 611 1491, V 959 1492, VI 618 1493, II 983 1495, IV 1029 1498, VIII 447 1499, X 286 1499, I 1002 1500, II 1016 1501, II 1021 1504, I 1018 1506, II 1035 1510, IV 1066 1514, II 1054 1516, XI 300 1516, X 314 1517, V 1024 1518, II 1062 1519, V 1030 1520, II 1071 1522, XVIII 237 1522, II 1079 1525, XI 451 1526, IX 596 1527, II 1087 1528, XXI 772 1530, XI 563 1530, X 633 1531, VIII 645 1531, VI 723 1534, VII 730 1538, XXI 853 1541, IX 322 1454, XI 708 1562, VI 728 1536, XI 605 1534, XI 650 1538, VII 739 1540, II 1024 1505, IV 1073 1517, XI 298 1515, XXI 929 1548.
1. By NonRefSs, I mean subjects that are neither anaphoric nor deictic in the sense of Lyons (Reference Lyons1977), and that are also not generic/impersonal in the sense of Sigurðsson & Egerland (Reference Sigurðsson and Egerland2009). Throughout the paper I mark null subjects as pro. I will have little to say about topic drop/discourse ellipsis, i.e. omission of subjects from the clause-initial position of main clauses in Modern Norwegian and other Germanic languages; see Nygård (Reference Nygård2013) for a recent study.
2. Recent research on null subjects in other (early) Germanic languages includes Axel (Reference Axel2007) on Old High German, Farasyn & Breitbarth (forthcoming) on Middle Low German Breivik (Reference Breivik1990), Haugland (Reference Haugland2007), van Gelderen (Reference van Gelderen2000, Reference van Gelderen2013), Rusten (Reference Rusten2010, Reference Rusten2013) and Walkden (Reference Walkden2013) on Old English and Rusten & Walkden (forthcoming) on Middle English. Walkden (Reference Walkden2014) discusses Old Saxon in addition to Scandinavian, Old English and Old High German. Rosenkvist (Reference Rosenkvist2009, Reference Rosenkvist2010) and Axel & Weiß (Reference Axel, Weiß, Wratil and Gallmann2011) discuss null subjects in modern Germanic dialects. While Axel & Weiß (Reference Axel, Weiß, Wratil and Gallmann2011) take the view that there is diachronic continuity between null subjects in early Germanic and the current, non-standard varieties, Rosenkvist (Reference Rosenkvist2009, Reference Rosenkvist2010) argues that null subjects in modern Germanic are an innovation.
3. A reviewer correctly points out that there was never one single null subject parameter; Rizzi (Reference Rizzi1982) refers to two different parametric options to account for the relationship between null RefSs and NonRefSs. However, in accordance with common terminology, I will continue to speak of the null subject parameter in the singular.
7. Icelandic fits well into Rizzi’s predictions also in terms of diachrony. Old Icelandic allowed referential null subjects but lost this property in the transition into Modern Icelandic; in Rizzi’s terms, this change can, at least on the face of it, be analysed as a change of the parameter value in (5b).
8. Håkansson, implicitly adopting the traditional V2 analysis of den Besten (Reference den Besten and Abraham1983), assumes that the finite verb moves to C in Swedish main clauses. He does not assume a split CP. Spec-TP is thus the position following the finite verb in main clauses; in (most) subordinate clauses, it follows the complementiser.
9. They could, however, and still can, be deleted from the preverbal position, Spec-CP, which maintained its status as an A'-position.
10. Håkansson (Reference Håkansson2008) relates this development to the loss of OV word order in Swedish, via the subject-in-situ generalisation (SSG), formulated by Alexiadou & Anagnostopoulou (Reference Alexiadou and Anagnostopoulou2001). The SSG states, informally, that only one DP argument may remain within VP. Håkansson (Reference Håkansson2008) analyses OV word order as a result of movement of the object out of VP, following Kayne (Reference Kayne1994); objects in VO structures are VP-internal. The implication of this, combined with the SSG, is that when Swedish turned into a VO language, and the object no longer moved out of VP, the subject had to do so or else the SSG would be violated.
12. See note 16 for some discussion of direct speech, which may potentially motivate a switch between grammars.
13. It is common to distinguish between two types of NonRefSs, namely quasi-arguments and “pure” expletives; see e.g. Chomsky Reference Chomsky1981:323ff, Rizzi Reference Rizzi1986, Bennis Reference Bennis1986 and Vikner Reference Vikner1995:224. I return to this distinction in Section 3.3.2. Generally, however, I will treat the two types of NonRefSs on a par, for the following reason: although quasi-arguments are in some respects in an intermediate position between expletives and referential arguments, this does not affect the prerequisite hypothesis in the strong version (see Section 2). None of the works discussed in Section 2 predicts that overt quasi-arguments will arise while null RefSs are still licit. It is also worth noting that Nicolis (Reference Nicolis and Biberauer2008:282), who discusses variation between overt and null NonRefSs within individual languages, does not find any systematic, cross-linguistic correlation between quasi-arguments and overt realisation. Thus, a priori, it should not be taken for granted that quasi-arguments and expletives differ, although, as we will see, this has been observed in the history of other Germanic languages.
14. I have not found many clear instances apart from the ones cited here. Keep in mind, though, that the combination of a null RefS and a syntactic environment that licenses a NonRefS within individual charters is rather infrequent.
15. The main clause is verb-initial, as is fairly common in Middle Norwegian, both in sentences with null and overt subjects. Although I have chosen to insert pro in the post-verbal position, it is also possible that it is preverbal; there is no way of deciding this on independent grounds. A reviewer raises the point that if the null subject is preverbal, it might be an instance of the discourse ellipsis that we find in Modern Germanic non-null-subject languages (also known as topic drop), i.e. a phenomenon distinct from null subjects in the most common sense of the word. I acknowledge that it is difficult to exclude this possibility completely. However, in terms of theoretical economy, it is not favourable to assume two distinct licensing mechanisms for subject omission when we can account for all the data invoking only one. Analysing preverbal null subjects as something special would be justified if there was independent, empirical motivation for this; e.g. if subject omission in preverbal contexts was associated with special syntactic conditions or pragmatic effects. I am not aware of any properties that clearly distinguish null subjects in main clauses like (9a) from other null subjects (see Kinn et al. Reference Kinn, Rusten and Walkden2016 for a similar conclusion based on early Icelandic data). Therefore, I choose to include verb-initial main clauses with null subjects on a par with other clauses with null subjects.
16. A potential objection to this example could be that the sentence containing the overt NonRefS is the direct speech of one of the parties, while the sentence containing the null RefS is not. It could thus be argued that two different grammars are at work. I do not consider this problem grave enough to leave the example without value, however. Hødnebø (Reference Hødnebø1971:149) points out that the language of quotes is not necessarily oral-like or otherwise different from that found in other parts of the charters: “Quite often, wild peasants from Telemark step up and speak like learned men. . .” (my translation).
17. It can be noted that this charter in addition to the overt NonRefS in (11) contains a null NonRefSs. See Section 3.3.2 for discussion.
18. In addition to the overt NonRefS in (12b), this charter contains a null NonRefS. See Section 3.3.3 for discussion.
19. A reviewer, implicitly assuming that conditional subordinate clauses originate from paratactic structures (cf. Hilpert Reference Hilpert, Traugott and Rousdale2010), raises the question of whether “the reanalysis of hypothetical V1-clauses as subordinated was fully completed” in Middle Norwegian. The subordination analysis is commonly assumed in the literature (see Mørck Reference Mørck and Haugen2013 for Middle Norwegian and Nygaard Reference Nygaard1905:380 and Faarlund Reference Faarlund2004:252 for Old Norwegian/Old Icelandic), and I find it well motivated. A reason for this is that verb-initial conditionals can be found in exactly the same positions as unambiguous conditional clauses with a complementiser. They may precede the statement of the consequence, as in (12a), but they may also follow it, as in example (19) (from Mørck Reference Mørck and Haugen2013:680):
vil jek vnnæ tek i skaal. . . vilt thu vel flygiæ tek
will I give you one bowl. . . will you well conduct yourself
‘I will give you a bowl if you conduct yourself as you should.’ (DN I 961, 1489)
20. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out. If the sentence in (12b) is instead considered a cleft, as in Kinn (Reference Kinn2016a:236), the question would arise as to whether it is relevant to the history of overt NonRefSs. Lundeby (Reference Lundeby, Svensson, Wieselgren and Hansson1976:289) claims that cleft det has evolved directly from an anaphoric pronoun. If that is correct, the history of clefts is not directly related to the history of null subjects. However, Grønvik (Reference Grønvik1991) presents evidence that clefts with null NonRefSs existed in a range of early Germanic languages, including Old Norse (i.e. Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic). I find Grønvik’s line of reasoning convincing; thus, even if (12b) is analysed as cleft, I take it to be relevant evidence in the context of the prerequisite hypothesis.
22. A similar construction is found in Old Norwegian, but, to the best of my knowledge, never with an overt þat/thet/det.
23. It also contains the following sentence, which could be interpreted as containing a null quasi-argument:
bætter haffde pro tik wæred hemæ
better had [it] you.acc been home
‘You would have been better off at home.’ (DN II 1016, 1501)
thet in (18a) is a quasi-argument because the predicate, the PP xxxj aar sidhen ath køupeth war giorth, is semantically related to weather predicates; it denotes an “abstract or concrete [process] independent of anybody’s interference or intention, such as the lapse of time . . .” (Faarlund Reference Faarlund2004:217).
25. I have not found all of these types of overt NonRefSs within individual documents. A reviewer points out that my reasoning on this point is not completely in accordance with my methodological point of departure, i.e. that we should only compare data produced by one and the same scribe. I acknowledge that this is a potential problem. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find all of the contexts in which an overt NonRefS can potentially occur within individual documents, so it is hard to refute this objection on empirical grounds. However, I would say that a scenario in which NonRef det was a construction marker for existentials for some speakers, but a construction marker for impersonal passives for others, as we would have to assume to maintain a construction marker analysis, does not seem intuitively appealing.
27. Recall from Section 2.1 that even the strong version of the prerequisite hypothesis allows overt NonRef elements if these elements have some additional function to that of being a subject. In examples (22)–(23) the overt and null variants occur in very similar contexts, and I cannot see any clear functional motivation to distinguish the overt pronouns from the null ones. In example (23) the overt variant occurs in an existential construction, whereas the null one is found in an impersonal passive, but, as argued in 3.3.3, evidence from other documents speaks against analysing it as a construction marker for existentials.
28. Haspelmath (Reference Haspelmath2002:249–250) observes that infrequent words do not always block the formation of a synonym by productive morphological rules. However, infrequent words may, at least in some cases, be stylistically marked, so what we see here is not necessarily free variation.
29. Axel (Reference Axel2007:303) makes a similar point in the context of Old High German.
30. A reviewer points out that the question of free variation is also relevant to the distribution of null and overt RefSs in Old and Middle Norwegian. I take it that null RefSs were only used under certain pragmatic conditions; cf. Kinn (Reference Kinn2016a:137–142, 177–178) for discussion.
31. I do remain open to the possibility, however, that future research on Middle Norwegian may reveal patterns of variation that warrant a different conclusion.
32. It has been argued that the term parameter is no longer appropriate, given the rather fundamental differences between parameters in the original sense and the more recent sense (e.g. Boeckx Reference Boeckx2010). I leave that issue aside here.
33. Middle Norwegian differs from Old Norwegian in that a considerable amount of first-person null subjects, and to some extent second-person ones, are actually found (I have not included any such examples in the present paper). Kinn (Reference Kinn2016a) presents evidence that first- and second-person subject omission in Middle Norwegian should be analysed as an early version of topic drop/discourse ellipsis, i.e. a phenomenon distinct from the Old Norwegian type of null subjects. I assume here, to avoid unnecessary stipulations, that this analysis does not extend to the 3rd person in Middle Norwegian, although more research into this issue would be welcome (see Kinn 2016a:272ff for some discussion). Provided that this is on the right track, the possibility of first- and second-person subject omission in Middle Norwegian is not in any conflict with the account of the loss of the Old Norwegian type of null subject that will be presented in what follows.
34. The analysis of the 3rd sg. n. and pl. pronouns is somewhat more complicated than the analysis of the 3rd sg. m. pronoun hann and 3rd sg. f. hon. There are no distinct 3rd sg. n. or 3. pl. pronoun forms in Old Norwegian; instead, the 3rd sg. n. and 3. pl. forms of the demonstrative determiner sá ‘that’ are used. When used as demonstratives, these forms (sg. n. þat, pl. m. þeir, pl. f. þær and pl. n. þau) must have more structure than a φP. However, I assume that there are distinct, but homophonous pronoun forms of these lexical items that are φPs and not DPs; cf. Kinn (Reference Kinn2016a:166) for discussion.
35. The observant reader may have noted that the nouns following han ‘he’ and hun ‘she’ in (29) are definite; the noun in (29a) is a proper name, while the noun in (29b) has a definiteness suffix. In my discussion of Old Norwegian, I used definiteness as an argument against a determiner reading of hann ‘he’. At the Modern Norwegian stage, however, definiteness does not undermine the status of han/hun ‘he/she’ as determiners: Modern Norwegian, as opposed to Old Norwegian, employs double definiteness as the default strategy (Faarlund et al. Reference Faarlund, Lie and Vannebo1997:296ff, Julien Reference Julien2005:26ff, Dyvik Reference Dyvik1979), which means that the complement of a determiner will in most cases be definite.
36. I have not found any instances of PDDs in Middle Norwegian, and the oldest written instances noted by Johannessen (Reference Johannessen, Johannessen and Hagen2008a) are from the beginning of the 20th century. Johannessen (Reference Johannessen, Johannessen and Hagen2008a) has also compared two Modern Norwegian speech corpora, TAUS from 1970 and NoTa from 2005. Her investigations indicate that the use of PDDs has increased, and, moreover, that the PDD was predominantly used by young speakers in 1970. This may suggest that the PDD is not much older than the most recent written instances.
37. Note that although IG implies an inclination to over-generalise, analogies are not predetermined to happen. Strong counter-evidence in the PLD will prevent IG to apply; moreover, modern parametric theory postulates an additional third factor principle, Feature Economy (FE), which (informally) states that children do not assume more formal features than necessary (Roberts Reference Roberts, Galves, Cyrino, Lopes, Sandalo and Avelar2012, Biberauer et al. Reference Biberauer, Holmberg, Roberts, Sheehan, Newmeyer and Preston2014). FE may also prevent the effects of IG.
38. As a reviewer points out, the diachronic development in German was somewhat different; in (High) German, overt quasi-arguments and null NonRefSs co-existed for a long time (see Axel Reference Axel2007:303).
39. This, of course, raises the question of why overt NonRefSs started to appear in the first place, and why it happened at the time it did. I must leave these issues for future research.
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