Monday, October 06, 2008

Does Vietnamese have expletives?

The normal assumption is that null-subject languages do not have expletive pronouns (i.e., pronouns used non-referentially, as, for example, in (1) and (2) below:

1. It remains to be seen whether John will come.
2. There has always been some controversy about her eligibility.

If Vietnamese is a null-subject language--and the typical absence of proforms in embedded clauses suggests this is the case--then it should not have expletives either. However, Phan Thi Huyen Trang (personal communication) draws attention to cases such as those in (3) and (4), in which, she suggests, the proform is non-referential, like English expletives:

3. Uống cho nó đã.
drink for it fill/quench
'Drink your fill (to quench your thirst)'

4. Tắm cái cho nó mát.
bath prt for it cool
'Take a bath to cool down'

These are interesting examples. However, at first glance, these do seem to be referential, although not in the sense of picking out participants in an event--which is the normal function of pronominal elements--but rather in referring to the Event/resulting situation itself. It may be more than coincidental that both of these examples show this element both embedded under cho: this is just where one might expect to see the event variable expressed (see section 5 of the grammar). In any case, it would be interesting to know whether these can also occur in the subject position of a matrix clause, and/or whether there are other such examples of a pro-form referring to situations rather than participants.


Nigel Duffield said...

Nguyen Van Hiep (personal communication) provides the following examples, which show 'expletive nó' in matrix subject (topic?) position, and which have the flavor of German or Dutch expletive constructions:

"Here is one example in Vietnamese: Imagine a student passing me with a backpack full of books. He/she seems to be in hurry. One of her/his books falls out. Seeing it, I might say:

-Này, nó rơi cuốn sách kia!
This it fell the book there
(Hey, the book fell out there!)

Take another example: Imagine I was fishing. A boy comes and throws a stone into the water. I would be angry and might say:

-Dùng làm thế! Nó chạy hết cá tao!
Don't do so! It run away all fish my
(Don't do so! My fishes would all run away!)

Anonymous said...

1. I don't get the first example of Nguyen Van Hiep. I can't understand the sentence to mean 'the book fell'.

2. I find the second example of Hiep and all the examples of Trang to be consistent with my intuition.

3. Introspection leads me to the following tentative generalization, which I am sure Nigel has thought about: [nó VP] where nó is non-referential is acceptable iff VP denotes a resultant state.

5. Some illustrations
(1) mày nên uống rượu cho nó buồn ngủ (you should drink wine in order to be sleepy)

(2) mày nên uống rượu cho nó ngủ (*you should drink wine in order to sleep / you should drink wine so that he sleeps)

(3) mày uống rượu cho nên nó buồn ngủ (because you drank wine, you were sleepy)

(4) mày uống rượu trước khi nó buồn ngủ (*you drank wine before you got sleepy / you drank wine before he got sleepy)

Of course, further tests would be great, as always...