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A pragmatic-syntactic economy condition on verbless clauses
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The ellipsis of infinitives is forbidden in a restricted set of examples all involving to-infinitival clauses. The ellipsis of infinitives is also allowed in case the non-finite clause is indirectly joined to the verb by means of an anticipatory pronoun. More mysteriously, ellipsis is allowed in case control of the subject of the infinitive is not obligatory, as evidenced by the presence of a discontinuous antecedent.

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Ellipsis of infinitives is problematic in a restricted set of examples involving to-infinitival clauses. This is illustrated by the following minimal pair:

Example 1

a. *Jouke hope nei Grins ta
Jouke hoped to Grins to
Jouke hoped to go to Grins
b. Jouke hope nei Grins ta te gean
Jouke hoped to Grins to to go
Jouke hoped to go to Grins

The semantic structure is nonveridical since the verb does not entail the truth of the complement, yet the sentence is ungrammatical. The ungrammaticality may be supposed to be due to the absence of a lexical trigger: there is no deontic modal nor is there a deontic complementiser (omfor). Let us first establish that the verb hope may occur with the non-finite complementiser:

Example 2

Hartstein hie yet altyd hope om Snits ris wer foar de greve yn to nimmen
Hartstein had still always hoped for Snits DcP again for the earl in to take
Hartstein had always hoped to seize Snits again for the earl

Therefore, we would expect that the ungrammatical sentence above displaying verb ellipsis becomes grammatical by inserting a complementiser. But this expectation is wrong:

Example 3

a. *Jouke hope om nei Grins ta
Jouke hoped for to Grins to
Jouke hoped to go to Grins
b. ?Jouke hope om nei Grins ta te gean
Jouke hoped for to Grins to
Jouke hoped to go to Grins

The verbless clause is non-veridical, so it is not clear what causes ungrammaticality here. It seems as if government by the verb is involved. If we choose a nominal structure, the complementiser omfor allows of a verbless clause, as shown below:

Example 4

a. Jouke hie de stille hope om nei Grins ta te gean
Jouke had the quiet hope for to Grins to to go
Jouke had the quiet hope of going to Grins
b. Jouke hie de stille hope om nei Grins ta
Jouke had the quiet hope for to Grins to
Jouke had the quiet hope of going to Grins

The difference between the two cases is that the ungrammatical examples involve an occurrence of the non-finite complementiser that is directly joined to a verb in the syntactic tree, whereas the grammatical case involves government by the noun. Facts such as these suggest that the non-finite complementiser omfor comes in two varieties (Hoekstra (1997:148):

  • a fully-fledged omfor displaying the relevant modal or irrealis features necessary for licensing the verbless infinitive
  • an impoverished omfor which is unable to license the verbless infinitive
The following questions arise:
  • Under what conditions can impoverished omfor be found?
  • Why does impoverished omfor block the presence of fully-fledged omfor.
It seems that impoverished omfor is found in case it is in a very close relation with the verb. Non-finite clause may be joined to the verb by two strategies:
  • The non-finite clause is directly joined to the verb.
  • The non-finite clause is joined to the verb by means of an anticipatory pronoun.
The following examples involve a non-finite clause that is directly joined to the verb:

Example 5

a. Harm besleat om nei Grins ta te gean
Harm decided for to Grins to to go
Harm decided to go to Grins
b. Harm drige om nei Grins ta te gean
Harm threatened for to Grins to to go
Harm threatened to go to Grins
c. Harm wegere om nei Grins ta te gean
Harm refused for to Grins to to go
Harm refused to go to Grins
d. Harm fergeat om nei Grins ta te gean
Harm forgot for to Grins to to go
Harm forgot to go to Grins

When the embedded clause is directly joined to the verb, infinitival ellipsis is ungrammatical:

Example 6

a. *Harm besleat om nei Grins ta
Harm decided for to Grins to
Harm decided to go to Grins
b. *Harm drige om nei Grins ta
Harm threatened for to Grins to
Harm threatened to go to Grins
c. *Harm wegere om nei Grins ta
Harm refused for to Grins to
Harm refused to go to Grins
d. *Harm fergeat om nei Grins ta
Harm forgot for to Grins to
Harm forgot to go to Grins

The following examples involve a non-finite clause that is not directly joined to the verb, that is, it is joined to the verb by means of an anticipatory pronoun:

Example 7

a. Ik ferpof it om nei Grins ta te gean
I refuse it for to Grins to to go
I refuse to go to Grins
b. Afke wjerhold Piter derfan om nei Grins ta te gean
Afke kept Piter of.it for to Grins to to go
Afke kept Piter from going to Grins
c. It wie Doutzen finaal troch it sin gongen om nei Grins ta te gean
it was Doutzen completely through the mind gone for to Grins to to go
Doutzen had completely forgotten about going to Grins

In case there is an anticipatory pronoun, infinitival ellipsis is grammatical:

Example 8

a. Ik ferpof it om nei Grins ta
I refuse it for to Grins to
I refuse to go to Grins
b. Afke wjerhold Piter derfan om nei Grins ta
Afke kept Piter of.it for to Grins to
Afke kept Piter from going to Grins
c. It wie Doutzen finaal troch it sin gongen om nei Grins ta
it was Doutzen completely through the mind gone for to Grins to
Doutzen had completely forgotten about going to Grins

In fact, some verbs optionally take an anticipatory pronoun. This pronoun is obligatory in case infinitival deletion takes place:

Example 9

a. ?Harm drige dermei om nei Grins ta
Harm threatened R.with for to Grins to
Harm uttered the threat of going to Grins
b. *Harm drige om nei Grins ta
Harm threatened for to Grins to
Harm threatened to go to Grins

The question arises as to why verbs which may take either impoverished om or fully-fledged om automatically select impoverished om (unless there is an anticipatory pronoun). It seems as if there is some principle stating: all other things being equal, select impoverished om in case the infinitival verb is elided. This reeks of a pragmatic meta-syntactic condition such as economy (of representation or derivation). Such a condition has the force of a cancellable presupposition: if the non-finite complementiser is governed by the verb, it will automatically be impoverished, unless this is prevented by an entailment from other material in the sentence.

There is evidence for this perspective. It is not only the presence of the anticipatory pronoun which can force a full-fledged non-finite clause to be present; it is also material which forces a disjoint reading on the implicit subject of the infinitive which prevents impoverished omfor from being present. Consider the following sentence:

Example 10

Jan ûnthiet Jantsje om PRO nei Grins ta te gean
Jan promised Jantsje for (Jan) to Grins ta to go
Jan promised Jantsje to go to Grins

This sentence can only have the subject control interpretation. According to Koster (1984b) and others, obligatory one-argument control correlates with the presence of an impoverished representation. If that is the case here, infinitival ellipsis should be ungrammatical. This is indeed the case:

Example 11

*Jan ûnthiet Jantsje om PRO nei Grins ta
Jan promised Jantsje for (Jan) to Grins ta
Jan promised Jantsje to go to Grins

There is no explicit information in the sentence above that cancels the economy presupposition saying that a verbally governed non-finite complementiser is impoverished. As soon as that kind of information is stuck in, the sentence becomes grammatical. Such explicit information can be an adverb for example:

Example 12

Jan ûnthiet Jantsje om PRO tegearre nei Grins ta
Jan promised Jantsje for (Jan + Jantsje) together to Grins ta
Jan promised Jantsje to go to Grins together

The same effect is obtained by a comitative expression, surprisingly:

Example 13

Jan ûnthiet Jantsje om PRO mei har nei Grins ta
Jan promised Jantsje for (Jan) with her to Grins ta
Jan promised Jantsje to go to Grins together

It may be noted that the comitative expression mei har entails disjoint reference, and correspondingly (apparently), the structure with fully-fledged omfor becomes available, which licenses infinitival ellipsis. This suggests that the implicit subject of impoverished non-finite clauses has different reference possibilities from the implicit subject of fully-fledged non-finite clauses. Apparently, a comitative expression is not compatible with the implicit subject of an impoverished non-finite clause.

References:
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1997The syntax of infinitives in FrisianGroningenRijksuniversiteit GroningenThesis
  • Koster, Jan1984Anaphoric and non-anaphoric controlLinguistic Inquiry15417-459
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