Tracking reference with null subjects
Null-subject languages are said to track reference and discourse-pragmatic information exploiting the array of specialized forms provided by their grammar. This argument is normally used as the baseline against which language acquisition and contact varieties (L1, 2L1, L2, L1-attrition) are evaluated. However, recent studies on Italian question the empirical validity of this pattern and call for an analysis of these issues from an empirical perspective. This paper presents the results of a study on mechanisms for introduction and tracking of reference in narratives (Frog Stories) in Italian L1/Dutch L2, Dutch L1/Italian L2, Italian/Dutch bilinguals and age-matched monolingual Italian controls. All utterances were scrutinized for form, antecedent, and discourse-pragmatic function. The results so far show an overextended use of null subjects, also in contexts of topic-shift, where overt subjects would be expected. These constructions are not ambiguous, as speakers make use of alternative devices for anaphora interpretation that exploit contextual cues.
Keywords: discourse interface, mental representations., tracking reference, Italian/Dutch, null subjects
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