2013 Winner: A Tale of Two Dummies

Project Information
A Tale of Two Dummies
Humanities
Linguistics--Syntax Independent Study
Some languages, including English and German, have "dummy subjects": nouns that seem to occupy subject position, but don't have any meaning, like "there" and "it" in (1-2):
(1) There is a turkey on the roof.
(2) It is hailing.
Many modern analyses suggest that these dummy subjects are inserted only when no other nouns could possibly occupy subject position. However, this is clearly not the case, because sentence (1) means the same thing as sentence (3), in which a non-dummy is able to occupy subject position:
(3) A turkey is on the roof.
In this paper, I develop a new theory that attempts to account for this and other interesting data. I also examine two different kinds of "dummy subject" in German, and explore why certain dummies have equivalents in English while others do not.
Finally I will attack a mystery that has troubled linguists for decades: if English and German both have passive sentence constructions, and if they both have dummy subjects, then why do we get sentences like (4) in German, but not in English?
(4) Es wurde getanzt.
There was danced.
PDF icon 527.pdf
Students
  • Matilda Morrison (Merrill)
Mentors