Null Objects in Old French

  • Bryan Donaldson
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT, volume 88)


Despite claims to the contrary, it has been shown that a number of modern Romance varieties—including European and Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and French—allow omission of the object of a verb, even when the object has a definite referent. Taking as a point of departure Arteaga’s (On null objects in Old French. In: Schwegler A, Tranel B, Uribe-Etxebarria M (eds) Romance linguistics: theoretical perspectives. Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp 1–11, 1997) study of null objects in Old French, this paper discusses contexts in which null objects are attested in Old French, including some not discussed by Arteaga, and including instances of manuscript variation. In addition, drawing on recent theories of null objects, and using the nature of the antecedent to the null object as a diagnostic, it is proposed that Old French possessed both null pronominals and null variables. The wide range of contexts in which Old French evinced null objects is taken to suggest that the ability to license object drop is not an innovation in Modern or even Middle French. Given that null objects are also attested in Latin, the data point to the continual availability of object drop from the earliest stages of French to the modern language.


Direct Object Main Clause Past Participle Discourse Referent Null Topic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to acknowledge Barbara Vance, Laurent Dekydtspotter, Julie Auger, Michael Johnson, the audiences at the 34th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (University of Utah) and the University of Texas at Austin, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. All errors and shortcomings are my own.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of French and ItalianUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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