Positional Expletives in Danish, German, and Yiddish

Author: Stefan Müller and Bjarne Ørsnes

Subject Areas: Expletives, Danish, German, Yiddish, HPSG

This paper appeared 2011 in Stefan Müller (Ed): Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, University of Washington, Stanford: CSLI Publications, pages 167–187.

The paper deals with expletives that are inserted into clauses for structural reasons. We will focus on the Germanic languages Danish, German, and Yiddish. In Danish and Yiddish expletives are inserted in preverbal position in certain wh clauses: For Danish such an insertion is necessary when the subject is locally extracted from an SVO configuration in non-assertive clauses. In Yiddish wh clauses are formed from a wh phrase and a V2 clause. If no element would be fronted in the embedded V2 clause, an expletive is inserted in non-assertive clauses in order to meet the V3 requirement. In addition to the embedded wh clauses, declarative V2 clauses also allow the insertion of an expletive. In Danish the expletive fills the subject position and is not necessarily fronted. In German and Yiddish the expletive has to occur in fronted position. In contrast to Danish and Yiddish, German does not insert expletives in wh clauses. They are inserted only into declarative V2 clauses in order to fulfill the V2 requirement without having to front another constituent. In this paper we try to provide an account that captures the comonnalities between the three languages while being able to account for the differences.

The analysis is part of computer-processable fragments of Danish, German, and Yiddish that share a common core.