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The subject/object asymmetry and the origin of Romance clitics

  • Jan Casalicchio (Utrecht University)
Thursday 4 October 2018
P.N. van Eyckhof 3
P.N. van Eyckhof 3
2311 BV Leiden


In this talk I discuss the differences between object and subject clitic (OCL and SCL) pronouns in Romance, and track their origin in the Middle Ages. These two types of pronouns differ because SCL generally behave as agreement markers, object clitics as real pronouns. In technical terms, subject clitics have only φ-features (i.e., agreement features), while object clitics also have D-features (pronominal features), Roberts (2010). This is shown by various tests, e.g. coordination, negation, etc (Poletto 2000).
In our analysis we propose that this difference is due to the origin of clitics: they first emerged in Old Romance in topicalisation contexts, to resume a dislocated element. However, dislocated objects are more distant from their usual, unmarked position than dislocated subjects (technically: objects have to cross a phase boundary, subjects do not). For this reason, objects have to be resumed by a richer pronominal element than subjects. Later on, the “poorer” structure of subject clitics lead to subject doubling, a common process in Northern Italian Dialects.

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