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On the universality of intrusive resumption: Evidence from Chamorro and Palauan


The literature on resumptive pronouns (RPs) has given rise to a rich taxonomy of the phenomenon. Despite the fact that RPs invariably have the morphosyntactic form of ordinary pronouns, they vary widely in distribution and function. In some languages, RPs are grammatically licensed; depending on the language and the syntactic context, they might or might not realize traces, compete with gaps, exhibit reconstruction effects, and so on. In other languages, notably English, RPs are ‘intrusive’ (Sells 1984). Kroch (1981), Asudeh (2004), Morgan and Wagers (2018), and others have proposed that intrusive RPs in English are ungrammatical products of the performance system—productions that satisfy local well-formedness but not global well-formedness. This account predicts that in every language, regardless of whether it has grammatically licensed RPs, intrusive RPs could also be found. Here we test this prediction against evidence from Chamorro and Palauan. Previous accounts have maintained that Chamorro does not have RPs and Palauan has only RPs. On the basis of corpus and elicited production data from Chamorro, and a re-examination of the Palauan evidence, we argue that both languages have grammatically licensed RPs, as well as intrusive RPs. Their grammatically licensed RPs differ in form and distribution. At least in Chamorro, the distribution of intrusive RPs produced is similar to that in English.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    All experimental items and data from the production experiment, and data from the corpus searches, are available at

  2. 2.

    Our discussion proceeds from the assumption that productions that are consistently judged by speakers to be degraded or ungrammatical, such as sentences containing intrusive RPs, are not generated by the grammar. Other initial assumptions are conceivable. For instance, one could assume that the grammar generates sentences containing intrusive RPs, but identifies them as highly marked. Proceeding from that alternative starting point, our claim would be that all languages have RPs that are routinely produced (and, by assumption, generated by the grammar) but not validated by speakers’ introspective judgments of grammaticality.

    It is sometimes claimed that intrusive RPs can facilitate comprehension (Hofmeister and Norcliffe 2013). However, there is no clear evidence that intrusive RPs are routinely interpreted as bound by the filler, and some recent research indicates they are often wrongly interpreted (Morgan et al. 2020). We further emphasize that there is language processing evidence that speakers treat (obligatory) grammatically-licensed RPs differently from intrusive RPs. For instance, Hebrew comprehenders actively predict RPs inside island domains when there is an A-bar operator (Keshev and Meltzer-Asscher 2017), but English speakers do not (Chacón 2015, 2019).

  3. 3.

    Predicates that are adjectives pattern like verbs for the purposes of word order and agreement, so we use the term verb to refer to both in the text.

  4. 4.

    The examples cited are from published works, the unedited database for the Revised Chamorro-English dictionary (abbreviated CD), Nuebu Testamento (the Chamorro New Testament, abbreviated NT), or—if not attributed to any source—from our Chamorro fieldwork. The following abbreviations are used in the morpheme-by-morpheme glosses. For Chamorro: agr = agreement, antip = antipassive, comp = complementizer, emp = emphatic, fut = future, l = linker, lcl = local case, nm = unmarked case, obl = oblique case, pass = passive, pl = plural, prog = progressive, q = question, wh[obj] = object wh-agreement, wh[obl] = oblique wh-agreement, wh[sbj] = subject wh-agreement. For Palauan: comp = complementizer, fut = future, im = imperfective, ir = irrealis, l = linker, neg = negative, p = preposition/oblique case, pf = perfective, r = realis, recip = reciprocal, as well as 3s = third singular, 1p = first plural, etc. (for other persons and numbers). Palauan inflectional morphology is so complex that we did not try to develop a uniform set of glossing conventions for the two languages. Instead, we reproduce Georgopoulos’ (1985, 1991) morpheme-by-morpheme glosses for the Palauan examples, with adjustments in the glosses of a handful of examples for uniformity. Note that Georgopoulos’ glosses do not conform to the Leipzig Glossing rules. Readers should also note that orthographic y in Chamorro is a voiced alveolar affricate; orthographic ch in Palauan is glottal stop.

  5. 5.

    Nuger (2016) analyzes er as a case marker when it introduces direct objects or possessors, and as a preposition otherwise. He shows that the er that introduces direct objects is a differential object marker that contrasts with the preposition er along various dimensions (Nuger 2016:104–124). We will propose later that er in all its functions is a case marker, not a preposition. For us, the contrasts uncovered by Nuger reveal that this case marker patterns differently when it marks direct objects than when it marks locatives, goals, and other oblique DPs. Josephs (1975:26, 39, 276–298) identifies er as a ‘relational word,’ a term consistent with a preposition analysis or a case marker analysis.

  6. 6.

    Two details concerning possessor agreement: (a) In Chamorro, a possessor that is a pronoun must control agreement on the possessed noun; see Sect. 3.1. (b) In Palauan, certain nouns—primarily borrowed words and words describing parts of the natural environment—realize their possessors as DPs introduced by er; these possessors do not control agreement (Josephs 1975:69–70).

  7. 7.

    Following Georgopoulos (1991:69–75), we take constituent questions in Palauan to be clefts in which the predicate is an interrogative phrase and the subject is a null-headed relative clause. The free translations of Georgopoulos’ examples of questions have been augmented to make the presence of the null-headed relative clause more transparent in English.

  8. 8.

    Other diagnostics for wh-movement are either absent or underdocumented. Neither Chamorro nor Palauan has weak crossover effects (Chung 1989:162, fn. 9; Georgopoulos 1991:197–198). Chamorro has no parasitic gaps, and the Palauan items identified as parasitic gaps by Georgopoulos (1991:111–114) could conceivably be ordinary (null or overt) pronouns. Although Chamorro has reconstruction effects, these have not been documented well enough to be discussed here.

  9. 9.

    The semantic distribution of realis vs. irrealis mood in Palauan is regulated as follows. Certain types of clauses are always in the irrealis mood; namely, negated clauses that are complements of the negative verb diak ‘not’, antecedent clauses of conditional sentences, certain adverbial clauses, and imperatives (Josephs 1975: Chapters 18 and 19; Georgopoulos 1985:77, fn. 19). All other types of clauses, including e.g. future clauses, are always in realis mood, but their mood morphology can be overridden by wh-agreement. (The mood morphology of clauses that require the irrealis mood, such as negated clauses, cannot be overridden by wh-agreement; see Georgopoulos 1991:89–90 and Josephs 1975:375, (28a) and (28b).)

  10. 10.

    Possessor-N agreement is not a form of clitic doubling. The forms of this agreement have the morphophonology of suffixes (Chung 2020) and the morphosyntax of agreement (Chung 1998). The profile of Chamorro clitics, including pronominal clitics, is quite different (Chung 2020).

  11. 11.

    The embedded verb does not show wh-agreement, because possessor gaps—like e.g. intransitive subject gaps—are not signaled by overt wh-agreement.

  12. 12.

    The D condition seems to be enforced less strictly for the definite article i than for other overt articles, demonstratives, and quantifiers. We have encountered some speakers who allow i in examples like (22b); see also Sect. 4.2. We note without further comment that the null indefinite article can be used felicitously in contexts in which it is common knowledge the possessee is unique relative to the possessor (Chung 2018).

  13. 13.

    In versions of Principles and Parameters theory that include the ECP or a head government requirement, all three conditions would follow directly from the hypothesis that these dependencies are created by wh-movement. In minimalist syntax, the locality condition follows directly, but it is not clear how the specificity effect and the restrictions on extraction of, and out of, specifiers are best handled.

  14. 14.

    Note, though, that sentential subjects, and subjects more generally, are not islands in Chamorro (Chung 1991a, 1991b).

  15. 15.

    The data discussed in this section were provided over the years by nine Chamorro speakers—six in Saipan and three (originally from Guam) in California. Their current age range would be 60–77 years.

  16. 16.

    The PAH is occasionally violated by speakers in elicitation contexts and can be outcompeted by other pressures in comprehension (Wagers et al. 2018). However, Clothier-Goldschmidt’s (2015) corpus study of connected discourse has shown that it is a hard constraint in production.

  17. 17.

    Irrelevantly, the string of words in (25b) is grammatical under other interpretations. When the 3sg. pronoun gui’ is present, the clause must be interpreted as reflexive (‘Maria scolded herself’); when gui’ is absent, Maria must be interpreted as the direct object (‘He scolded Maria’).

  18. 18.

    For reasons of space, we observe but do not discuss the following. First, the PAH never accesses the features of the possessor of the subject. This is because external arguments must be specific, so the subject DP of a transitive clause cannot have the null indefinite (nonspecific) article as its D (Chung 1998:104). Second, although clauses like (27a) are occasionally accepted by speakers in elicitation contexts, a corpus search of the Chamorro New Testament reveals that clauses of this type—with a third person subject and a DP object with a null indefinite D and a second person possessor—are systematically absent. As is usual with PAH violations, the corresponding passive clauses occur instead. In other words, even in its interaction with possessors, the PAH is a hard constraint in production; see fn. 16.

  19. 19.

    Small v does not probe beyond the direct object’s possessor, because DPs in Chamorro are phases.

  20. 20.

    The ungrammaticality of (29b) makes it clear that the possessor has not undergone an intermediate step of raising to object before wh-movement occurs. If that had happened, the PAH ought to respond in the same way to (28) and (29b), contrary to fact.

  21. 21.

    Participants provided positive verbal consent for the audio recording before the experiment began. During the debriefing, they were given an information sheet in Chamorro and English that gave a brief lay description of the purpose of the experiment, stated that participation was anonymous, and provided contact information for each of the three researchers. Each participant was compensated with a high-capacity flashdrive. Participants’ productions were transcribed by the three of us in the CNMI and coded later.

  22. 22.

    For the sake of completeness, we note that this case-marked overt RP is one conjunct of a coordinate structure whose other conjunct contains a null RP possessor.

  23. 23.

    The locative possessive DP is an argument of the existential verb guaha ‘exist’ in 18 productions, an argument of gaigi ‘be (in a location)’ in 8 productions, and associated with an intransitive verb of motion in 2 productions.

  24. 24.

    In the focus construction, a syntactically focused DP or PP appears at the left edge of CP. Most instances of the focus construction in Chamorro have two possible analyses, one involving wh-movement of the syntactically focused constituent and the other involving a cleft construction in which the focused constituent is a predicate whose subject is a null-headed relative clause. However, in some cases, only one analysis is possible (Chung 1998:268–275). The example of the focus construction cited later in (36) has only a wh-movement analysis. A cleft analysis is not possible for this example, because the focused constituent, maseha håyi ‘whoever’, does not occur independently as a predicate.

  25. 25.

    Examples from NT are cited in the 2010 version of the CNMI’s standard Chamorro orthography.

  26. 26.

    In general, wh-traces that are spelled out as RPs in a given language can be identified by their grammatical relation (Case). In Vata, for instance, subject wh-traces are spelled out as RPs; in Swedish, certain embedded subject wh-traces are spelled out as RPs; in Tongan, ergative wh-traces are spelled out as RPs; in Māori, nonsubject wh-traces are spelled out as RPs. Our proposal that Palauan wh-traces in the oblique case are spelled out as RPs conforms to this broader descriptive generalization.

  27. 27.

    Another possibility, suggested to us by Justin Nuger, is that wh-agreement in Palauan is realized by nonfinite verb forms, but the Cs e and el kmo require their TP complement to be finite. This suggestion could work for subject wh-agreement, but it is less obvious how it extends to nonsubject wh-agreement, given that irrealis verb forms in Palauan occur in finite clauses (e.g. negated clauses, antecedents of conditional sentences, imperatives; see fn. 9).


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Many thanks to the 44 Chamorro speakers who participated in our elicited production experiment in the CNMI in September 2014. We are indebted to Manuel F. Borja, Dr. Elizabeth D. Rechebei, Francisco Tomokane, and the many others who have served as Chung’s Chamorro consultants over the years. We acknowledge the late Carol Georgopoulos for her important research on Palauan syntax; her works are the source of all the Palauan data cited here. We are grateful to Cameron Fruit for providing a digital version of the Chamorro New Testament. Finally, we thank Scarlett Clothier-Goldschmidt, Steven Foley, Boris Harizanov, Jim McCloskey, Ivy Sichel, Kristine Yu, Kie Zuraw and especially Justin Nuger for their help, support, and constructive comments. The research reported here was supported in part by NSF grant #BCS-1251429 to UC Santa Cruz.

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Chung, S., Wagers, M.W. On the universality of intrusive resumption: Evidence from Chamorro and Palauan. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 39, 759–801 (2021).

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  • Resumptive pronouns
  • Chamorro
  • Palauan
  • Elicited production