Towards a typology of clausal prolepsis (TTCP)

There are two main ways of integrating two clauses into one utterance: they can be coordinated, as in John eats and Bill sleeps, or one clause can become a subpart of the other, as in John thinks that Bill sleeps, where the clause that Bill sleeps serves as the direct object of the verb thinks in the main clause. In the languages of the world, the second pattern is rarer than the first one: many languages avoid integrating a clause into another clause. The TTCP-project wants to understand why, by focusing in detail on one of the avoidance strategies used by natural language: prolepsis.

In an example like I was sure of it yesterday that John would win, the clause that John would win is heralded by the presence of it. This pronoun occupies the position reserved for the clause—to the immediate right of the preposition of—while the clause itself occupies a right-peripheral position. Such pronouns are called proleptic proforms.

The existing literature on proleptic proforms has put forth three possible analyses, but there is little agreement as to which one is correct. The lack of a consensus is due to the overly Anglo-centric view of much of the literature. This narrow empirical focus has left one aspect of proleptic proforms systematically underdiscussed: their form. In English, proleptic proforms are typically personal pronouns like it, but not so in other languages. The TTCP-project focuses on Dutch and Hungarian to cover the full range of forms proleptic proforms can take: from locative proforms (Dutch) over personal and demonstrative pronouns (Dutch/Hungarian) to manner adverbs (Hungarian).

By systematically cross-matching the tests and criteria from the existing literature against the varying morphology of proleptic proforms in Dutch and Hungarian in a large-scale questionnaire study, the TTCP-project aims to bring much-needed analytical clarity and structure to the domain of proleptic proforms and by extension clausal integration. More generally, the research carried out in the context of the TTCP-project naturally leads to a larger, more ambitious project proposal, which focuses on the notion of argumenthood across the languages of Europe.

The TTCP-project has been awarded to Jeroen van Craenenbroeck (CRISSP/KU Leuven), Marcel den Dikken (Eötvös Loránd University), and Krisztina Szécsényi (Eötvös Loránd University) in the context of the Central Europe Leuven Strategic Alliance (CELSA). You can read the full project description here.