Linguistics ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-15-2017


Research on variable subject expression in null subject languages is robust; however, the factors that condition subject expression in English are underexplored, primarily because it is generally assumed that overt subjects accompany inflected verbs. This dissertation addresses this gap by investigating cross-linguistic constraints that influence subject (un)expression in English, focusing on third person human and inanimate referents. Data for this study come from two discursive corpora, representing the genres of conversation and narrative. Analysis reveals that discourse/pragmatic factors, such as accessibility, are operative notwithstanding the typological divide commonly known as pro/non-pro-drop. This dissertation presents an original approach to measuring discourse connectedness, finding that variable subject expression follows a gradient scale of prosodic cohesion. Moreover, the constraints on third person are found to vastly differ according to animacy and referentiality, indicating that with regards to subject expression, third person in English is not a coherent category. Finally, particular collocations frequently occurring with null subjects are analyzed vis-à-vis paths of grammaticalization.


corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, grammaticalization, null subjects, subject expression, morphosyntax

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Linguistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Naomi Shin

Second Committee Member

Catherine Travis

Third Committee Member

Melissa Axelrod

Fourth Committee Member

Jill Morford

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