A Typological Investigation of the Pro-drop Parameter


Despite recent developments in syntactic theory, there is still a great deal of interest in the relationship between linguistic universals as discovered through typological investigations and the theory of principles and parameters. Since the latter is based on findings in the area of the former, the two bodies of work together have the potential to be very powerful when typological evidence permits. In light of the benefits of the relationship between these theories, the purpose of this paper is to use a typological approach to evaluate one particular parameter called the pro-drop parameter.

After a general discussion of universals and this parameter in particular, language particular data collected for this study is investigated. These data consist of native or near-native reports on seventeen different languages as they relate to the characteristics generally associated with the pro-drop parameter. While this language sample is unable to account for areal and genetic relationships between languages, it benefits from the fact that all of the data supplied come from native judgments thereby providing more detailed information than would be possible with other types of sources.

The data were analyzed in terms of how they pattern with respect to the characteristic features of the established parameter. In addition, possible explanations for patterns and inconsistencies found were sought in terms of other typological theories such as those by Greenberg (1963), Dryer (1991), Steele (1978), Jelinek (1984) and Nichols (1993) in contrast with syntactic theories like morphological uniformity (Jaeggli and Safir, 1989). The result of this paper is a detailed analysis of a parameter which while based on a typological theory may lack the requisite typological evidence to support it.