Naomi Nagy

Linguistics at U of T

Subject Pronoun Variation in Faetar and in Franco-Provençal

by David Heap and Naomi Nagy

The geolects of the Gallo-Italo-Romance linguistic continuum show considerable variation in subject pronoun usage. Contrary to the predictions of the Null Subject Parameter hypothesis, these grammars have subject pronoun paradigms that are not only "partial" (some but not all grammatical persons are regularly used) but also variable, conditioned by a number of linguistic factors.

The Faetar speech community, a Franco-Provençal isolate spoken in Southern Italy for six centuries, has a highly variable phonology in which typically Franco-Provençal forms compete with cognate forms more characteristic of surrounding Italian and Apulian varieties (Nagy 1996). Faetar also has a variable subject pronoun system which is typologically more similar to the Franco-provençal varieties of South-Eastern France, Western Switzerland and North-Western Italy than to its Southern Italian "null subject" neighbours.

This paper uses two corpora to analyse the Faetar subject pronoun system: (1) Linguistic atlas data (Gillieron & Edmont 1902, Jaberg & Jud 1928) is compiled in order to compare Faetar usage with the usage found at survey points in the Ain and Isère valleys, the area where the Faetar settlers are believed to have originated (Nagy 1996). (2) Recent fieldwork data (Nagy 1996) is used to obtain a dynamic portrait of subject pronoun usage across the contemporary Faetar speech community.

Preliminary GoldVarb results indicate that linguistic factors such as grammatical person, type of subject, type and position of clause, presence of object pronouns and negation all have significant conditioning effects on Faetar subject pronoun usage, as they do in other Gallo-Italo-Romance varieties (Heap 1997). Contrary to Marzys (1981), the effects of these factors are variable, rather than categorical: grammatical person as a category is a significant factor in both Faetar and the other Franco-Provençal varieties, but the relative effect of each grammatical person varies somewhat between geolects.

In our analysis of the contemporary corpus, classic sociolinguistic factors such as age and gender are combined with an index of exposure to Italian, as a measure of the degree to which Faetar subject pronoun usage is becoming "Italianized". The 70-year difference between the two corpora also allows us to explore the possibility of a shift in subject pronoun usage. The linguistic constraints which apply in the Faetar speech community are also compared to those which condition the appearance of subject pronouns in the Italo-Gallo-Romance continuum.

In addition, the results of this research, along with other studies of the development of Romance pronoun systems (Auger 1994, Nadasdi 1995, Heap 1997) and other studies of contact-induced variation in Faetar (Nagy 1994, Reynolds & Nagy 1997), provides data for the long-term cross-linguistic project of determining which social and linguistic factors are most reliable for predicting how a language will change when it comes into contact with another.

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