Beyond Verb Type: The Effect of the Verb on Subject Pronoun Expression
2022-04-13, 15:00–15:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 3

This paper expands on recent analyses of the effect of the verb on the alternation between overt and null pronominal subjects; i.e., subject pronoun expression (SPE). We use 14,250 tokens from four speech communities in two different dialect regions: (a) Barranquilla, Colombia, (b) Medellín, Colombia, (c) New York City Colombians, and (d) Xalapa, Mexico. Although verb semantics has been found to be a robust SPE predictor, it has been explored using several different predictor/factor configurations (Carvalho, Orozco & Shin 2015; Otheguy & Zentella 2012; Torres-Cacoullos & Travis 2018; among others). Initial multivariate regression results for verb type and lexical content concur with those of previous investigations, corroborating that verb semantics conditions SPE. Yet, these results fail to expand our collective knowledge. Thus, we further analyze the lexical effect of the verb—a recently proposed alternative to verb semantics (Orozco 2018)— with two tiers of multivariate regression analyses. We test, as random effects factors, (1) verbs and (2) specific pronominal subject + verb collocations. Results of the lexical effects of verbs uncover opposite statistically significant tendencies between verbs in the same category in all four communities. E.g., in Barranquilla recordar ‘remember’ favors overt subjects but acordarse ‘remember’ has the opposite effect; in Medellín, ver ‘see, look’ favors overt subjects but mirar ‘see, look’ disfavors them; in NYC ir ‘go’ favors overt subjects but salir ‘leave’ favors null subjects; and in Xalapa ser ‘be’ favors overt subjects but estar ‘be’ exerts the opposite tendency. Additionally, results of the pronoun + verb collocations analysis reveal opposing tendencies between finite forms of a single verb within each speaker cohort. Our study uncovers a series of facts about the effect of the verb on SPE: (a) the lexical effects of the verb lack the cross-dialectal consistency exhibited by all other internal SPE predictors (Carvalho et al. 2015:xv; Torres-Cacoullos & Travis 2018); (b) grouping verbs according to semantic criteria in exploring how they condition SPE fails to uncover important differences; (c) the lexical effect of the verb does not depend on lexical frequency; that is, the most frequent verbs do not behave differently from the less frequent ones; and (d) verbs exert different conditioning pressures in different speech communities. Thus, our analysis provides a more detailed account of how verbs condition SPE and mounting evidence that despite four decades of research, we are yet to know the real effects of the verb on SPE. Our findings set the verb apart from all other linguistic SPE predictors, suggesting that the apparent differences in how verbs condition SPE across different speech communities may be caused by lexical idiosyncrasy. I.e., the lexical effects of the verb in a given speech community differ from those elsewhere; thus, challenging the premise that the internal conditioning on SPE is largely similar cross-dialectally. This investigation expands our analytical scope, as it improves the accountability of our findings on SPE. Moreover, this analysis, by offering new perspectives on the lexical effect of the verb, contributes to open exciting research avenues.


Carvalho, Ana, Rafael Orozco, & Naomi Shin. 2015. Subject Pronoun Expression in Spanish: A cross-dialectal perspective. Washington DC: Georgetown UP.
Otheguy, Ricardo & Ana Celia Zentella. 2012. Spanish in New York: Language contact, dialectal leveling, and structural continuity. Oxford: Oxford UP.
Orozco, Rafael. 2018. El castellano colombiano en la ciudad de Nueva York: Uso variable de sujetos pronominales. Studies in Lusophone and Hispanic Linguistics. 11,1:89-129. DOI:
Torres-Cacoullos, Rena & Catherine Travis. 2018. Bilingualism in the Community Code-switching and Grammars in Contact. Cambridge, UK.: Cambridge UP.

Panel affiliation

Cross-language approaches to null subjects

Professor of Linguistics and Spanish; Director of Louisiana State University’s Interdepartmental Linguistics Program. Scholarly interests include sociolinguistics with emphases on language variation and change in Latin American Spanish, and Spanish in the United States. His research studies the factors that condition language variation including the effects of language contact —mainly with English— and dialectal contact on Latin American Spanish. Recent work explores the idiosyncratic lexical effects of the verb on personal pronoun expression. Has delivered presentations in the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and South America. Author of Spanish in Colombia & New York City: Language Contact Meets Dialectal Convergence (John Benjamins, 2018); editor of New Directions in Hispanic Linguistics (Cambridge Scholars, 2014); coeditor of Subject Pronoun Expression in Spanish: A Cross-Dialectal Perspective (Georgetown, 2015). His work has appeared in several edited collections and in journals such as Spanish in Context, Hispania, and Studies in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics.