UConn Ling Lunch: Paula Fenger (Oct. 7, 2014)

Paula Fenger gave a LingLunch presentation this Tuesday, Oct. 7th, titled “When does ‘one’ help ‘man’? The distribution of impersonal pronouns”.

LingLunch is held in Oak 338 at 12:30pm.


Dedicated impersonal pronouns are found in many languages and are used to express generic and arbitrary statements. A semantic and syntactic asymmetry exists between two types impersonal pronouns (a. o. Malamud 2004; Cabredo-Hoffher 2008, 2010; Siewierska 2008). The English type, one, on the one hand can occur in both subject and object position, but is semantically restricted to generic statements. The German type, man, on the other hand, can both have a generic and arbitrary reading, but is syntactically restricted to subject position. To account for the semantic asymmetry, several researchers (Egerland 2003, Ackema and Neeleman 2014, in prep.) propose a difference in feature specification between the two types: German man is fully underspecified having no features whatsoever, whereas English one isspecified for a set of phi-features. These feature specifications should also have an effect on the syntax. Egerland (2003) proposes that the underspecification of man explains its limited syntactic distribution.

The present study focuses on the syntactic difference between the two pronoun types in four Germanic languages (English, Frisian, German and Dutch) in order to find out why the German type is more restricted. It will be shown that Egerlands proposal needs to be re-evaluated: The empirical data reveal that the German type is restricted to occur only in nominative case, rather than the pronoun being restricted to its underlying syntactic position. This pattern follows from the proposal where nominative case is assigned via agreement, rather than via a case-shell (a.o. Neeleman and Weerman 1999, Chomsky 2000, 2001). Thus the subject will stand in relation with the verb, which carries a phi feature. The idea entails that every pronoun needs to receive a phi-feature. The German pronoun type can only occur if it is in an agreement relation with the verb, because the pronoun itself is underspecified for any phi-features (following Egerland 2003 and Ackema and Neeleman 2014, in prep.). The English pronoun type, on the other hand, is sufficiently specified by itself and therefore does not need to stand in an agreement relation with the verb and it can occur in the position where it receives accusative case.