Losing the null subject : a contrastive study of (Brazilian) Portuguese and (Medieval) French
By Georg A. Kaiser
Proceedings of the Workshop Null-subjects, expletives, and locatives in Romance, edited by Georg A. Kaiser and Eva-Maria Remberger (Konstanz, 2009)
Introduction: This paper deals with the development and the use of subject pronouns in Portuguese and discusses the question of whether or not Brazilian Portuguese is a language which is losing its null subject property or which has already lost it. Given that French, which was originally a null subject language, lost its null subject property at the end of the Middle French period, the question will be discussed by comparing Medieval French with Brazilian Portuguese with respect to the use of subject pronouns and to related phenomena. The answer will be negative: although Brazilian Portuguese differs significantly from other Romance null subject languages when using subject pronouns, the paper provides evidence that Brazilian Portuguese still possesses the null subject property and that it is far from losing this property.
It is well-known that most Romance languages belong to the group of null subject languages. As illustrated for Portuguese, Italian and Spanish, subject pronouns are generally not used in unmarked contexts in these languages:
(1) (Ele) fala português.
(2) (Lui) parla italiano.
(3) (Él) habla español.
‘He speaks Portuguese / Spanish / Italian.’
Only two Romance languages, Modern French and Swiss Romansh, do not exhibit the null subject property, since they do not allow this kind of pronoun dropping:
(4) *(Il) parle français.
(5) *(El) tschontscha romontsch.
‘He speaks French / (Swiss)-Romance (Sursilvan).’