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Are all pro-forms the same in that they have to have antecedents and postcedents in the conversation to have any meaning? For example, the word "it" derives its meaning from a noun located either just before or just after the pronoun "it". Also, the word "Yes" is a pro-sentence, and it derives its meaning from a statement just said, for example, "Pizza is delicious." and then someone says "Yeah.". Would the person's "Yeah." mean "Yeah, pizza is delicious.", or is the meaning of a pro-form derived from something else?

  • Adding references would improve chances of an answer. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '16 at 7:59
  • PRO or pro? A small, but important difference ;) – lemontree Aug 13 '16 at 11:00
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    @lemontree, what is the difference between PRO and pro? – GFD1998 Aug 13 '16 at 20:22
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    @jlawler & GDF1998 For German the difference is quite straightforward: While pro is semantically empty and does not affect the verb's valency, PRO will always fill an argument position of the verb. In general, PRO occurs in non-finite phrases, pro in finite ones. However, pro behaves differently across languages; in Italian pro can be referential (-> pro-drop), so I admit the difference is not always that obvious. But as long as there are languages in which there is a gramm. difference (at least German, also Dutch I think), I find it plausible to assume that there is pro and a distinct PRO. – lemontree Aug 14 '16 at 21:50
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    However, reading through the question and the answers more closely, GFD1998 seems to refer to a different kind of pro than I was assuming (I was thinking of phonetically empty subjects, but this doesn't seem to make sense in this context), so my pointing out the difference might have been somewhat misplaced... – lemontree Aug 14 '16 at 21:53
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yes and no. a proform by definition must refer to something else, but that "something else" need not be linguistic. For example, Joe says something crazy. I point my index finger to my temple and swirl it (meaning, that's nutty). Sally points at me and says "he's right" or "that's right" or similar. I haven't said anything, but everybody understands Sally's point.

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  • I am interested more with verbal and or written communication rather than nonverbal communication. Would someone have to say a referent in a conversation before using a pro-form for the pro-form to have any meaning whatsoever? – GFD1998 Aug 15 '16 at 23:02
  • 'He is right' has no pro-form, and 'that is right' has a demonstrative, which isn't always considered a pro-form. Weather 'it' (it is raining, it is late, it seems that ...) is a pro-form whose antecedent (a moment in time) need not be stated. – amI Aug 16 '16 at 19:59
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    "He" is not a proform??? Please explain – mobileink Aug 16 '16 at 20:02
  • @ami: "whether"? – mobileink Aug 16 '16 at 20:05
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    @GFD1998: Unequivocally no. What's critical is a common understanding, which can be implicit. If I say "Fermat's last theorem is true", and you are a mathematician, you will understand me even though neither of us has explicitly articulated the theorem in our conversation. Of course, somebody (like Fermat) must have articulated it. – mobileink Aug 16 '16 at 20:11
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Brainstorming a bit turns up a lot of examples, it seems. Sometimes it will boil down to definition (are demonstratives pro-forms), but even excluding demonstratives, I can think of quite a lot:

(1) Generic pronouns:

 *On*     ne  sait pas.
 *3sg.*   NEG know NEG. (French)
 *One* does not know / We can't tell

(2) Speech act participants: I'm a little teaport, short and stout.

(2) Reflexives in nominalised VPs:

不  患    人      之  不  *己* 知
Bu  huan  ren    zhi bu  *ji*     zhi
NEG worry others GEN NEG *self*   know (Old Chinese)
Do not worry about others' not knowing the *self*

(3) Reciprocals in nominalised VPs: Knowing each other well is important for teamwork.

(4) Pro-sentences in polar questions:

Ana    ruwa, *ko*?
one.is rain  *or*
Is it raining or **not**? (Hausa - Schachter and Shopen 2007)

(5) Answers to questions: The original sentence in the OP if it came from this conversation:

A: Is pizza delicious?
B: *No*!

Since the statement 'Pizza is not delicious' never appeared in the conversation.

References:

Schachter, P. and Shopen, T. (2007). Parts of speech. In Shopen, T. (ed.), Language typology and syntactic description (Vol. 3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Most pro-forms will denote things which are more explicitly discussed in the conversation, but some do not.

One example is the English word now, which (IMO) should be analysed as a pro-preposition. Now stands in for a temporal phrase, such as at this moment in time, but only rarely would a speaker also refer to that moment with a full prepositional phrase.

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    Note the equivalence of 'now' and weather 'it'. – amI Aug 16 '16 at 20:00

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