Subject clitic variation in a northern Italian dialect
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This study investigates the phenomenon of subject clitic (henceforth, SCl) variation in Ligurian, a variety spoken in the north-west of Italy. Through the examination of empirical data, this work shows that variation can be incorporated in the theory of a single grammar. In particular, this study determines which linguistic and extra-linguistic factors influence SCl variation and whether these factors vary among individual speakers, and it applies notions of minimalist theory to account for variable and categorical cases. Three variables in the Ligurian SCl paradigm are examined, where overt variants alternate with a zero form. These are: 3rd singular u, a/Ø, 3rd plural i/e/Ø, and 1st person e/a/Ø. In these variables, the zero form is always affected by adjacent negation and object clitics, by processing factors, and occasionally by following phonological context, though never by age of the speaker. In contrast, factors that influence overt SCl alternation vary: subject-verb agreement in 3rd singular contexts, morpho-phonological factors in 3rd plural contexts, and phonological, syntactic, and extra-linguistic factors in 1st person contexts. Following the general view that SCls in northern Italian dialects express subject agreement features (e.g., Poletto, 2000), I propose that SCl variants are phonological expression of different phi-feature combinations of two categories of Agreement (Number and Person) which include underspecification of features and feature values (Adger, 2006). Overt variants may show underspecification of the number and/or gender features of Number, whereas a null underlying variant always has unvalued number and gender. In variable cases, all variants in the set are formally satisfied and significant factors trigger the choice of the variant. In categorical cases, only one SCl variant in the set has its feature requirements fulfilled. Furthermore, I propose a four-fold interpretation of the zero form, namely, as null underlying variant, as nonpronunced SCl projection due to blocking by syntactic elements, as absence of phi-features, and as phonological deletion of overt variants (inter-speaker variation).
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