Searching for motivations for grammatical patternings

Marja-Liisa Helasvuo


In this article I analyze subject expression in conversational Finnish, identifying the home environments for zero and pronominal subjects in the 1st and 2nd person singular. Based on a syntactically coded database, I show that there is a clear preference, in both 1st and 2nd person, for pronominal subjects over zeros; in other words, double-marking is preferred over single-marking. This clearly contravenes the general preference for minimization or economy in person reference in conversation, as suggested by Sacks and Schegloff (1979) and Levinson (2007; see also Hacohen and Schegloff 2006). The home environments for zero and pronominal subjects are analyzed in terms of the micro-level social actions performed by participants, in order to find motivations for the choice of the form of subject. The analysis of the Finnish data shows that the choice between zero vs. pronominal subject is sensitive to features in the sequential context. It affects turn projection. The article shows that a systematic analysis of the data can provide important insights regarding global patterns. The deeper motivations that lie behind these patternings, however, cannot be understood without close microanalysis of the local contexts of subject expression.

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