Microvariation in the resolution of pronominal subjects in Romance: European Portuguese vs. Italian



The present study investigates how adult native speakers of two null subject Romance languages, European Portuguese (EP) and Italian, interpret null and overt pronominal subjects in intrasentential contexts. Participants were 30 speakers of EP and 30 of Italian. Each language group was administered two multiple-choice tasks (speeded and untimed), which crossed the following variables: ‘animacy of the matrix object’ ([+ human] vs. [- human]) and ‘type of pronominal embedded subject’ (overt vs. null). Our results show that there is microvariation in the resolution of overt pronominal subjects in EP and in Italian: the position of the antecedent is the most relevant factor in EP, whereas, in Italian, the animacy of the antecedent is the preponderant factor. Moreover, our results reveal that the resolution of null subjects is an area of microvariation: the bias for subject antecedents is weaker in Italian than in EP. Possible reasons for the observed microvariation are discussed in detail.


microvariation, anaphora resolution, animacy, null subject, Romance languages


Alonso-Ovalle, Luis, Fernández-Solera, Susana, Frazier, Lyn, & Charles Clifton Jr. 2002. Null vs. overt pronouns and the topic–focus articulation in Spanish. Journal of Italian Linguistics 14(2): 151–170.

Ariel, Mira. 1990. Accessing noun phrase antecedents. London: Routledge.

Bader, Marcus, & Jana Häussler. 2010. Toward a model of grammaticality judgments. Journal of Linguistics 46(2): 273–330. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226709990260

Baker, Mark C. 2008. The macroparameter in a microparametric world. In T. Biberauer (ed.), The limits of syntactic variation, 351–373. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: https://doi.org/10.1075/la.132.16bak

Barbosa, Pilar, Duarte, M. Eugénia, & Mary Kato. 2005. Null subjects in European and Brazilian Portuguese. Journal of Portuguese Linguistics 4(2): 11–52. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/jpl.158

Bowles, Melissa. 2011. Measuring implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge: What can heritage language learners contribute? Studies in Second Language Acquisition 33(2): 247–271. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263110000756

Cappellaro, Chiara. 2017. The semantic specialization of third person pronoun ‘esso’ as (–human) in standard Italian. Revue Romane 52(2): 113–136. doi: https://doi.org/10.1075/rro.52.2.01cap

Cardinaletti, Anna. 2004. Toward a cartography of subject positions. In L. Rizzi (ed.), The Structure of CP and IP: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, vol. 2, 115–165. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cardinaletti, Anna. 2021. I pronomi deboli nel sistema pronominale dell’italiano. Storie e Linguaggi 7(2): 131–151.

Cardinaletti, Anna, & Michal Starke. 1999. The typology of structural deficiency: A case study of the three classes of pronouns. In H. van Riemsdijk (ed.), Clitics in the languages of Europe, 145–233. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Carminati, Maria Nella. 2002. The processing of Italian subject pronouns. Ph.D. thesis, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Chamorro, Gloria. 2018. Offline interpretation of subject pronouns by native speakers of Spanish. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 3(1): 27. 1–16. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.256

Cordin, Patrizia. 2021. Soggetti pronominali deboli. Storie e Linguaggi 7(2): 153-175.

Costa, Armanda, Faria, Isabel, & Gabriela Matos. 1998. Ambiguidade referencial na identificação do sujeito em estruturas coordenadas [Referential ambiguity in the identification of the subject in coordinate structures]. Actas do XII Encontro Nacional da Associação Portuguesa de Linguística [Proceedings of the 12th National Meeting of the Portuguese Linguistics Association], 173–188. Lisbon: APL/ Colibri.

Costa, João, & Joana Ambulate. 2010. The acquisition of embedded subject pronouns in European Portuguese. In M. Iverson, I. Ivanov, T. Judy, J. Rothman, R. Slabakova, & M. Tryzna (eds.), Proceedings of the 2009 Mind/Context Divide Workshop, 1–12. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Cunnings, Ian. 2012. An overview of mixed-effects statistical models for second language researchers. Second Language Research 28(3): 369–382. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0267658312443651

Cyrino, Sónia, Duarte, M. Eugenia, & Mary Kato. 2000. Visible subjects and invisible clitics in Brazilian Portuguese. In M. Kato, & E. Negrão (eds.), Brazilian Portuguese and the Null Subject Parameter, 55–104. Frankfurt: Vervuert-Iberoamericana. doi: https://doi.org/10.31819/9783964561497-004

Ellis, Rod. 2005. Measuring implicit and explicit knowledge of a second language: A psychometric study. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 27(2): 141–172. doi:10.1017/S0272263105050096

Filiaci, Francesca. 2010. Null and overt subject biases in Spanish and Italian: A cross-linguistic comparison. In C. Borgonovo, M. Español-Echevarría, & P. Prévost (eds.), Selected Proceedings of the 12th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, 171–182. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Filiaci, Francesca, Sorace, Antonella, & Manuel Carreiras. 2013. Anaphoric biases of null and overt subjects in Italian and Spanish: a cross-linguistic comparison. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 29(7): 825–843. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/01690965.2013.801502

Frascarelli, Mara. 2018. The interpretation of pro in consistent and partial null-subject

languages: A comparative interface analysis. In F. Cognola, & J. Casalicchio (eds.), Null Subjects in Generative Grammar: A Synchronic and Diachronic Perspective, 211–239. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Godfroid, Aline, Loewen, Shawn, Jung, Sehoon, Park, Ji-Hyun, Gass, Susan, & Rod Ellis. 2015. Timed and untimed grammaticality judgements measure distinct types of knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 37(2): 269–297. doi:10.1017/S0272263114000850

Hopp, Holger. 2007. Ultimate attainment at the interfaces in second language acquisition: Grammar and processing. Ph.D. thesis, University of Groningen.

Kayne, Richard S. 2005. Some notes on comparative syntax, with special reference to English and French. In G. Cinque, & R. S. Kayne (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Syntax, 3–69. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195136517.013.0001

Linck, Jared, & Ian Cunnings. 2015. The utility and application of mixed-effects models in second language research. Language Learning 65: 185–207. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12117

Lobo, Maria. 2013. Sujeito nulo: sintaxe e interpretação [The null subject: syntax and interpretation]. In E. P. Raposo, M. F. Bacelar do Nascimento, M. A. Mota, L. Segura, & A. Mendes (eds.), Gramática do Português [Portuguese Grammar], 2309–2335. Lisbon: Gulbenkian.

Lobo, Maria, Madeira, Ana, & Carolina Silva. 2017. Interpretação de pronomes sujeito anafóricos e catafóricos por falantes de português L2: efeitos da língua materna [The interpretation of anaphoric and cataphoric subject pronouns in L2 Portuguese: L1 effects]. Revista da Associação Portuguesa de Linguística [Journal of the Portuguese Linguistics Association] 3: 135–153. doi: https://doi.org/10.26334/2183-9077/rapln3ano2017a9

Lobo, Maria, & Carolina Silva. 2017. Resolving pronoun ambiguity in European Portuguese: adults vs. children. In J. Choi, H. Demirdache, O. Lungu, & L. Voeltzel (eds.), Language Acquisition at the Interfaces: Proceedings of GALA 2015, 196–215. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Luegi, Paula. 2012. Processamento de sujeitos pronominais em Português: efeito da posição estrutural do antecedente [The processing of pronominal subjects in Portuguese: the effect of the structural position of the antecedent]. Ph.D. thesis, Lisbon University.

Morgado, Sara, Luegi, Paula, & Maria Lobo. 2018. Efeitos de animacidade do antecedente na resolução de pronomes sujeito [Effects of antecedent animacy on the resolution of subject pronouns]. Revista da Associação Portuguesa de Linguística [Journal of the Portuguese Linguistics Association] 4: 190–205. doi: https://doi.org/10.26334/2183-9077/rapln4ano2018a40

Silva, Carolina. 2015. Interpretation of Clitic, Strong and Null Pronouns in the Acquisition of European Portuguese. Ph.D. thesis, NOVA University of Lisbon.

Sorace, Antonella, & Francesca Filiaci. 2006. Anaphora resolution in near-native speakers of Italian. Second Language Research 22(3): 339–368. doi: https://doi.org/10.1191/0267658306sr271oa

Torregrossa, Jacopo, Andreou, Maria, & Christiane M. Bongartz. 2020. Variation in the use and interpretation of null subjects: A view from Greek and Italian. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 5(1): 95. 1–28. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.1011




Download data is not yet available.