Accusative clitics, null objects, and the object agreement cycle

Microvariation in Spanish and Romance

  • Matthew Maddox University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Keywords: object clitics, null objects, diachronic syntax, grammaticalization, old spanish, clitic left dislocation, clitic doubling


Conservative varieties of Modern Spanish exhibit clitic left-dislocation and accusative clitic doubling of pronominal objects. Clitic left-dislocation occurs in Old Spanish but accusative clitic doubling first appears in the fifteenth century, becoming regular in the sixteenth century. Conservative Modern Spanish allows some non-referential null objects but generally lacks null referential objects. However, null referential objects do occur in Rioplatense Spanish (Schwenter 2006). In this paper, I show how these patterns are related. My main claim is that clitic left-dislocation, accusative clitic doubling, and null referential objects become available diachronically as a result of the grammaticalization of object clitics; i.e., van Gelderen’s (2011) Object Agreement Cycle. The stage of the cycle a language is in correlates with whether the language has clitic left-dislocation, accusative clitic doubling, and/or null referential objects. I extend Holmberg, Nayudu & Sheehan’s (2009) D-in-T analysis of null subjects to null objects. I propose that the D-feature that licenses null objects on v is there due to the cycle; i.e., reanalysis of object clitics. My analysis accounts for the distribution of clitic left-dislocation, accusative clitic doubling, and null referential objects in Romance and it leads to the prediction that a language with clitic-less null referential objects will have developed less restricted accusative clitic doubling first.