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Expletives in Existentials: English 'there' and German 'da'

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Expletives in Existentials: English ‘there’ and German ‘da’

Jutta M. Hartmann (Tilburg University)

The nature and use of expletives like there in English received a lot of attention in theoretical research, and they are usually considered semantically empty elements, merged in the specifier positions of functional heads (mostly in the domain of TP or CP), in order to satisfy an EPP feature. In this talk, I will look at the (syntactic) nature of expletives from the perspective of existential structures.

The crucial data are the following: (i) in existential structures (i.e there BE NP structures), the PP, often assumed to be part of the predication structure, is truly optional; (ii) leaving out the expletive leads to an ungrammatical structure. Interestingly, German da, which is a locative or adverbial pronominal in most of its uses (as will be illustrated), also occurs with existential meanings. And in these cases, it exhibits the same properties: a PP is optional, and da cannot be left out. I conclude from this (i) that the expletive is part of the predication structure of the existential meaning, and (ii) that existential meanings are compositionally derived.

To account for some of the data, two analyses have been proposed: one suggests that there is the predicate (cf. Hoekstra and Mulder 1990, Moro 1997) whereas another proposed that there is the subject (cf. Williams 1994, Hazout 2004) of a small clause predication structure. I will argue that the latter is on the right track, proposing extensions of this analysis. This move has implications for the theory of expletives in general: expletives in existentials belong to the core predication structure and are not specifiers of a functional projection. Having said this, I will explore to what extent all there-sentences are existential. I will show that we need to distinguish there-BE structures (There is a man in the garden and there-V structures (There arrived a man) on the basis of wh-movement, embedding, and comparative structures, suggesting that there-V structures belong into a different basket, namely inversion structures. Then, I will concentrate on the extended there-BE structures (there be NP Adj/Participle) and see to what extent they can be included in an analysis as existential sentences.

References Hazout, Ilan. 2004. The syntax of existential constructions. Linguistic Inquiry 35:393–430.

Hoekstra, Teun, and Rene Mulder. 1990. Unergatives as copular verbs: Locational and existential predication. The Linguistic Review 7:1–79.

Moro, Andrea. 1997. _The raising of predicates: Predicative noun phrases and the theory of clause structure._ Cambridge/ New York/ Melbourne: Cambridge UP.

Williams, Edwin. 1994.Thematic structure in syntax. Cambridge, MA/ London: MIT Press.

This talk is part of the SyntaxLab series.

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