Expletiveness in grammar and beyond

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4 Citations (Scopus)


This paper sets out to find the defining characteristics of so-called expletive categories and the consequences the existence of such categories has for Universal Grammar. Looking into different instantiations of expletive subjects and impersonal pronouns, definite articles, negative markers and plural markers in various natural languages, we reach the following generalizations: (i) expletive categories are deficient functional elements interpreted as introducing an identity function at the level of semantic representation, (ii) they can be divided into syntactic expletives, that occur to satisfy some syntactic relationship with another item in the clause, and semantic expletives, that stand in a semantic dependency with some c-commanding category, and (iii) expletive categories tend to develop additional meaning components that are computed beyond core grammar, at the level where speech act-related information is encoded. Our discussion reveals that all categories that have been traditionally considered as expletive in the linguistic literature are interpretable in grammar or beyond and, thus, do not violate Chomsky’s Full Interpretation Principle. We conclude that there are no expletive elements in natural languages and that expletiveness is not a grammatically relevant concept.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalGlossa: A journal of General Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2022


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