Despite their status as null subject languages, several southern Italian dialects feature expletive subject pronouns. These do not serve as a ‘dummy subject pronoun’ like typical expletives, but rather have a pragmatic function. In Campanian dialects, this expletive takes the form of the distal demonstrative chillo ‘that’. According to the literature, there are two pragmatic uses of chillo, which distinguish themselves formally and interpretatively: i) the invariable neuter form which has an ‘explicative’ value; ii) agreeing chillo which marks the semantic subject of the clause as a new or shifted topic. However, chillo can also be used in focused contexts; determining its exact pragmatic- syntactic function is the first aim of the project.
Moreover, this distinction seems to be subject to microvariation within Campania. The second aim of this project is thus to investigate the microvariation in both the agreement and the pragmatic use of this pronoun by using an experimental approach to syntax, testing both production and perception of both uses of chillo.
The third aim is to investigate the geographical distribution of these pragmatic expletives; similar pragmatic uses of subject pronouns are attested in Sicilian and Calabrian, but they have not been studied systematically before.
The project contributes to the study of the null subject parameter and the syntax-pragmatic interface, while providing data on the typology of pragmatic expletives.