Eismont P.M. What May Statistics Tell Us About Null Subjects in Russian?

DOI: https://doi.org/10.15688/jvolsu2.2022.5.4

Polina M. Eismont

Candidate of Sciences (Philology), Associate Professor, Ludmila Verbitskaya Department of General Linguistics, St. Petersburg University

Universitetskaya Emb., 7-9-11, 199034 Saint Petersburg, Russia

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Abstract. The article highlights the linguistic phenomenon of abandoning the expletively presented syntactic subject (the Null Subject Phenomenon) in different languages and focuses on its exemplification by the Russian language. It is shown that despite the existing number of studies on this issue, there is lack of precisely formulated criteria that determine the choice of linguistic means to represent a syntactic subject in the languages, which allow both options (partial null subject languages). Based on the discussion of literature on the topic and on the statistical analysis of 16,718 sentence samples from the spoken language, print journalism, and fiction subcorpora of the Russian National Corpus, the article argues that the choice between null and overt subjects in Russian sentences depends on factors such as tense, person, and style, but that this dependency is rather weak, owing to
the fact that the Russian language system is now in the process of change. Null-subjectness is not an exclusive syntactic parameter and should be studied along with other aspects like semantics and pragmatics. The statistical data from this study support previously discussed diachronic and acquisition data, and confirm that languages do not nicely distribute themselves into distinct groups, but inhabit a constantly changing continuum.

Key words: pro-drop languages, null subject, corpus study, syntax, continuum, syntactic subject, Russian.

Citation. Eismont P.M. What May Statistics Tell Us About Null Subjects in Russian? Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 2. Yazykoznanie [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. Linguistics], 2022, vol. 21, no. 5, pp. 41-49. DOI: https://doi.org/10.15688/jvolsu2.2022.5.4

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