Prof. John McWorther, in his course on Linguistics, said, in a lecture about principles and parameters: "if a language is pro-drop, the verb attraction parameter is always set on. If a language isn't pro-drop, then it could go either way." Using his examples:

John often kisses Mary (English, pro-drop: off, verb-attraction: off)

Jean embrasse souvent Marie (French, pro-drop: off, verb-attraction: on)

Beso normalmente Maria (Spanish, pro-drop: on, verb-attraction: on)

The examples above show that in English, the verb comes after the adverb, while in French, the verb comes before the adverb (it has moved from its original V position to the T position up in the tree). In Spanish, which is a pro-drop language, the verb has to come before the adverb, as in French. Now, consider the same example in Portuguese:

Normalmente beijo a Maria (Portuguese, pro-drop: on, verb-attraction: off)

This piece of evidence seems to contradict the hypothesis above. In Portuguese, the subject pronoun can be omitted (pro-drop), but the verb does not have to move (although you could also say "beijo normalmente a Maria"). How can this be explained?

  • I don't have anything to add to @Aaron 's excellent answer, just wanted to note that McWhorter's choice of an introduction to syntax via the Principles and Parameters framework does not mean that this is the only viable approach to characterizing syntactic differences between languages. For a critical perspective on P&P, see Tomasello (1995), and Haspelmath (2006), among others. – user483 Mar 24 '12 at 16:14

The adverb "normalmente" isn't the right kind of diagnostic for these languages, as evidenced by its free placement in the sentence. The fact that it it prosodically "heavy" also leads one to be suspicious of its status -- in general, the right kinds of adverbs for these tests are relatively light. For Spanish, Suñer (1994) proposes the following sentences as adverbial diagnostics of V-movement (example 14 from the paper):

(1) Juan juega sucio a las cartas todos los días
    J.   plays dirty P the cards  all   the days

(2) *Juan juega a las cartas sucio todos los días

In non-finite contexts (which lack subject raising to Spec,IP) the verb moves past the VP-internal subject (ex. 17a):

(3) Jugar   Juan limpio a las cartas es una contradicción
    to.play J.   clean  P the cards  is a   contradiction

Since subject movement to Spec,IP isn't obligatory in finite sentences either, the subject can also intervene it these sentences (ex. 17b)

(4) Aunque   jugaba Juan limpio a las cartas, ...
    although played J.   clean  P the cards

The exact parallel to the English sentence "John often kisses Mary" can't be tested, since it is possible that "sucio/limpio" is base-generated to the right of the verb instead of to the left like "often." But these diagnostics demonstrate that verb movement of some sort is occurring. (I don't know Portugese, so I don't know how well they translate to that language.)

Costa & Galves argue that the Portuguese verb movement is shorter than the English/French kind. Though position is optional with respect to some adverbs, it isn't with others:

(5)  O   Pedro leu   bem  o   livro
     The P.    reads well the book

(6) *O   Pedro bem  leu   o   livro
     The P.    well reads the book

Thus (and with other arguments) they conclude that the verb movement targets a lower position in Portugese.


Costa & Galves (2000) "Peripheral subjects in two varieties of Portuguese: evidence for a non-unified analysis." In Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2000. John Benjamins.

Suñer (1994) "V-Movement and the Licensing of Argumental Wh-Phrases in Spanish." NLLT 12:2.

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Brazilian Portuguese is not pro-drop, in the spoken form it's 90% non-pro-drop, and 10% pro-drop.

Baiano Brazilian Portuguese:

Eu normalmente beijo Maria. Eu frequentemente vejo ela. A gente sempre planeja o futuro.

with inversion:

Maria, eu normalmente beijo. Ela, eu frequentemente vejo. O futuro, a gente sempre planeja.

Quem (que) você sempre chama? = Who(m) do you always call/invite?

Quem (que) sempre chama você? = Who always calls/invites you?

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