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What are (1) [NP e], (2) control PRO; pro, other instances, and (3) 'e' in the examples? ('NP' here is actually a subscript in the paper)


I'm reading Barbara Abott's 'Definiteness and Indefiniteness.' In its 'Introduction,' she enumerates definite noun phrases. In the list I see something like this:

  • NP type: [NP e]
  • More details: control PRO; pro; other instances of ellipsis
  • Examples: Mary tried e to fly; [on a pill packet] e contains methanol [=Ariel 1988, ex. 7a]

What are (1) [NP e], (2) control PRO; pro, other instances, and (3) 'e' in the examples? ('NP' here is actually a subscript in the paper)

  • NP e appears to be some kind of phonetically unrealized anaphor used to analyze the grammatical structure of English phrases. Since these are specialized linguistic terms, I think it's possible that you will get better answers over on the Linguistics Stack Exchange site. – herisson Nov 7 '15 at 5:57
  • Ah, I see that you've made a post there. Sorry, I forgot to mention that you are "supposed" to choose one site out of the two. Anyway, it's not a big deal, but I'm sorry I didn't explain it better earlier. I hope you get a good answer to your question! – herisson Nov 7 '15 at 6:44
  • I see. I can only post at one site with the same query? If so, should I remove one or the other? Anyhow thanks for pointing me out there, sumelic. – Sssamy Nov 7 '15 at 6:54
  • Much obliged, sumelic. I've been on and off this site. Thanks for your heads-up. – Sssamy Nov 7 '15 at 8:56
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These are terms of art in linguistics. NPe are ellipses in noun phrases, i.e., with certain language constructs omitted. Let's take the easy one first:

e contains methanol

This is from a label on a pill bottle. Only the words "contains methanol" actually appear on the label, but to understand the sentence, we must assume there is a missing subject, denoted by e, "the pills in this bottle."

Next we have pro (called "little pro" in the biz), and it refers to omitted pronouns that could well appear in the sentence. Check out the discussion in Linguistics: An Introduction by Andrew Radford. He gives the example of Trinculo's line from The Temptest (Act II, scene ii), which I've annotated as

Hast e any more of this?

or

Hast pro=[thou] any more of this?

The actor playing Trinculo doesn't say "thou," but that's what his line means, and the sentence would be grammatical if he included it.

PRO (called "big pro," naturally) is an unsaid and never-said pronoun assumed in some theories to exist in certain phrases under the assumption that all such phrases must have subjects even if they're implied. In the example

Mary tried e to fly

it is assumed that the infinitive has an implied subject that is Mary herself. This may be written as

Maryi tried PROi to fly.

That is, it's the subject Mary who tried to fly. But it's possible that the PRO may be indexed to the object:

Mary asked Johnj PROj to pay.

In the flying example, the subject controls the PRO; in the asking example, the object controls. Thus the term "control PRO."

  • Splendid! Thanks, deadrat. What do the subscripts i and j denote? – Sssamy Nov 7 '15 at 8:54
  • I'm no expert, but from what I've read, the subscript is used to tie the PRO to its controlling element. There may be more than one. Consider "Mary tried to get John to pay." That would be "Mary<sub>i</sub> tried PRO<sub>i</sub> John<sub>j</sub> PRO<sub>j</sub. to pay. The markup doesn't work, but I hope it's clear. – deadrat Nov 7 '15 at 9:02
  • Yes, very clear. Thanks indeed. Got it. What book is it that you read about this. I'm curious. I'm up for any study tool available. – Sssamy Nov 7 '15 at 9:57
  • @Sssamy Most of the online linguistics sources are written at too high a level for me -- they assume familiarity with theory that I don't have. I put this together by studying Wikipedia articles on the definitions of terms like "little pro" and "big pro" until I understood the examples. – deadrat Nov 7 '15 at 18:37
  • @Sssamy, Deadrat, subscript i and j are used to index the intended referents of pronouns in general. So we can say Bobi punched Billj because hei is mean to himj or Bobi punched Billj because hej is mean to himi. In the first Bob is mean to Bill, in the second Bill is mean to Bob. No subscript in comment unfortunately! – Araucaria Nov 7 '15 at 21:29

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