Linguistics ETDs

Publication Date



Brazilian Portuguese (henceforth BP) has for long been considered as a Null-subject language due to its variability in regards to subject expression (e.g. Era bom porque eu diminu\xeda de peso... era muito gordinha \u2018That was good because then I could lose some weight\u2026 (I) was a bit chubby. C33:179). Such variability has been attributed to the language's once rich inflectional system, and the reported increase in rate of subject expression has been seen as a result of changes to the system (Barbosa, Duarte, & Kato, 2005; Monteiro, 1994b; Negr\xe3o & Viotti, 2000). Moreover, there is agreement among several scholars that the variability can still be accounted for in terms of traditional factors such as emphasis, clarity, and ambiguity of the Tense, Aspect, and Mood (TAM) system. In this work, I demonstrate that, rather than an effect of such pragmatic factors as these, subject expression in BP is to a large degree an artifact of the frequency of use of certain constructions of different degrees of fixedness. The analysis proposed here falls under the framework of usage-based linguistics in which grammar is believed to be shaped by discourse as speakers produce it online (Bybee, 2006). Thus, any linguistic pattern observed in speech is emergent and a result of repetition (Bybee, 2006; Hopper, 1998). Therefore, it is believed that the patterns of subject expression found in the data are a result of the speaker's experiences with those patterns. The data used for the study are drawn from the corpus of oral Portuguese as spoken by educated speakers from Fortaleza (PORCUFORT) (Monteiro, 1994a). The analysis is based on 8066 tokens of 1sg, 2sg, and animate 3sg subjects culled from three different registers (Conversations, Interviews, and Lectures) across three different age groups (22-35, 36-50, and over 51). These tokens are subjected to a number of multivariate analyses to identify the contexts that significantly contribute to the realization of pronominal subjects in these data. The methodology employed in this study to analyze the data follows the tenets of the Comparative method in Variationist theory in that comparison across the different subjects allows us to identify the contexts that contribute to the overall pattern of pronominal subjects. Moreover, this analysis also takes into account the role of frequency and constructions in shaping the grammar of speakers. These different analyses and approaches yield two major findings from this study, namely (1) that these three persons behave very differently in terms of their patterning with pronominal subjects, they show that there are different factor groups conditioning the realization of pronominal subjects and within these factor groups we see that the factors show different directions of effect depending on the person; (2) that high frequency verbs and constructions also behave differently in their distribution with pronominal subjects. In fact, their behavior is needs to be examined in isolation because some show regular patterning with pronominal subjects while others are realized without pronominal subjects.'

Project Sponsors

Latin American and Iberian Institute




"Contructions, Frequency, Brazilian Portuguese, Subject Expression, Grammaticalization, Language Change"

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Linguistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bybee, Joan

Second Committee Member

File-Muriel, Richard

Third Committee Member

Torres-Cacoullos, Rena

Fourth Committee Member

Aikenvald, Alexandra


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