Diachronic change and pronoun status: Italian dative 'loro’

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From a historical perspective, personal pronouns in Romance languages display a tendency to undergo changes in syntactic status in a particular order, namely; strong > weak > clitic. This paper discusses the possible reasons behind the final step of this sequence of development, i.e. that from a weak form to clitic status. It will be argued that the external trigger for this kind of diachronic change has to be a morphophonological one; if a weak pronoun is morphophonologically reduced over time, language learners may at some point come to analyse the pronoun as a clitic. A number of syntactic properties are expected to change as a consequence of the switch from weak form to clitic. This view gives support to Cardinaletti & Starke’s (1999) approach which argues for a principled link between the morphophonological make-up of pronouns and their syntactic status.
Furthermore, it is shown that the Italian dative pronoun loro ‘to-them’ during the 13th and 14th centuries underwent changes that corroborate the above hypothesis in an interesting way. Originally, loro was a weak pronoun but in some central Italian varieties, above all in the town of Siena, a reduced form lo’ emerged, which had clitic properties. Arguably, the phonological change preceded the syntactic one. For a period, both loro and lo’ are attested in rather free distribution. Later on however, the Sienese grammar makes a clear distinction between them, analysing lo’ as a dative clitic and loro as a strong pronoun.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1130
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


  • syntactic change
  • weak pronouns
  • Italian
  • clitic pronouns


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