Sentences like "I want to win the game" pose(d) a unique challenge for syntacticians. The somewhat clear facts are that the sentence is composed of the subject "I," the verb "want," and the clausal complement to the verb "to win the game." The problem is that "to win the game" doesn't itself have a subject. It is quite obvious to the native speaker (and probably most non-native speakers as well) that the sentence means that I want myself to win the game, that is the subject of the subordinate C(lausal) P(hrase) is the same as the subject of the main CP. But how do we show that?
Generative syntax posits the existence of a semantically full but phonetically vacuous subject called PRO (read: "big pro"). This gives us a subject for the subordinate CP. In this case PRO is coindexed with "I," so that "I want to win the game" means something like "I want that I win the game" (and in fact this kind of relative, finite subordinate clause is exactly how you would express such a statement in most Balkan languages, e.g., Greek, Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and many others). One can also have a non-indexed PRO that simply means "someone" or "something," e.g., "To break a leg is painful" would be diagrammed as "PRO to break a leg is painful," where PRO is simply unindexed and refers to some unspecified person.
The real reason I'm posting about this, though, is that I was fascinated to learn that English is one of very few languages where the object, not just the subject, can control PRO. In a sentence like "I want to win the game," PRO is subject-controlled, that is, PRO is the same as the subject of the main CP. However, we can also have sentences like "I persuaded Bill to go to college," (I persuaded Bill PRO to go to college), where PRO is object-controled, i.e., PRO is the same as the object of the main CP. I'll have to do some research and see if I can find any other languages where this is allowed.
The 5th Annual Clarion Write-a-thon
2 years ago