Zur Geschichte des referentiellen Nullsubjekts im Russischen

Russian has changed diachronically from a clearcut null subject (pro drop) language to a language which allows, and in certain registers demands, weak coreferential subject pronouns. Concomitantly, the preterite system underwent morphological simplification and the obviation of person information. The coincidence of these two developments has been taken as evidence for a close connection between null subjects and the explicitness of verbal morphology, both in traditional, and in recent formally as well as grammaticalizationoriented approaches. The present article evaluates evidence from the Novgorod birchbark documents, and from four narrative text samples from the XI.-XVIII. century. In contrast to earlier studies, it is argued that only the relative amount of null subjects, compared to pronominal and nominal subjects with equal features should be taken into consideration. Furthermore, a distinction between 1./2. person on the one hand and 3. person on the other is instrumental for an understanding of the changes involved. The results indicate that 1./2. person null subjects declined between the XV. and XVII. century, almost at the same rate as the morphologically explicit preterite forms, whereas 3. person null subjects remained in use for a longer time, before being replaced by a weak, semantically bleached, personal pronoun. I therefore argue that the impoverishment of agreement morphology is sufficient to explain the decline of pro drop in 1./2. person, a 3. person null morpheme being available in the auxiliary paradigm until at least the XV. century. The development of the 3. person null subject involves at least one further factor, namely, the rise of a weak pronoun. 


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