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Omission of French Subject Pronouns

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1e4e6
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 Message 1 of 14
09 July 2014 at 1:23am | IP Logged 
I feel like this should be obvious, but after approximately one decade of learning
French, I have never understood why French prohibits the omission of subject pronouns
like in the other Romance languages, like in Spanish and Portuguese «Soy Nicolás» or «Sou
Nicolas» or Italian «Sono Nicola», but in French «Suis Nicolas» is impossible. Is there a
reason that this cannot happen, or was this present in Old French and somehow evolved
that the subject pronoun was necessary? Mandatory subject pronouns reminds me as an
aspect of, for example, the Germanic languages. I remember when I started French, I often
made mistakes like, «Qui êtes?», which would omit the pronoun in Spanish «¿Quiénes
sois?», Portuguese «Quem sois?». Obviously I stopped doing this, but I never understood
why this construction had to be as such.

Edited by 1e4e6 on 09 July 2014 at 1:24am

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Chung
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 Message 2 of 14
09 July 2014 at 1:46am | IP Logged 
For French I suspect that the lack of pronoun dropping is reinforced by French verb conjugation patterns showing a lot of homophones in some of the tenses (including the frequently-used ones in past and present).

Present indicative

Je mange
Tu manges
Il mange
Nous mangeons
Vous mangez
Ils mangent

Perfect indicative

J'ai mangé
Tu as mangé
Il/Elle/On a mangé
Nous avons mangé
Vous avez mangé
Ils/Elles ont mangé

Imperfect indicative

Je mangeais
Tu mangeais
Il/Elle/On mangeait
Nous mangions
Vous mangiez
Ils/Elles mangeaient

Present subjunctive

(Que) je mange
(Que) tu manges
(Qu') il/elle mange
(Que) nous mangions
(Que) vous mangiez
(Qu') il/elle mangent

See Pro drop patterns and analyticity for some examples from other languages.

***

Or it might be a case that the obligatory use of pronouns in a way "allowed" speakers to let homophones proliferate in French conjugation.
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Arekkusu
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 Message 3 of 14
09 July 2014 at 5:00pm | IP Logged 
In French, word endings have suffered an extreme level of erosion over time. You can see this in words ending in -ault, -auts, -eaux, etc., that are all pronounced "o".

If you take the present tense of manger, as Chung demonstrated, there are only 3 distinct forms in spoken French: mang(-), mangeons and mangez. If you consider that "on" usually replaces "nous" in informal speech, that leaves only two forms. 6 pronouns, 2 forms. It's easy to see how confusing the absence of pronouns would be.

Similarly, certain subject and object pronouns are identical (nous and vous). If French was pro-drop, then what would "vous mangez" mean?
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smallwhite
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 Message 4 of 14
09 July 2014 at 5:18pm | IP Logged 
In English, the subject can sometimes be omitted:
- Am trying. Will let you know.
- OK, will do.
- Looks great.

Do they sometimes omit the subject as well in French?
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Speakeasy
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 Message 5 of 14
09 July 2014 at 9:08pm | IP Logged 
I find that Chung's explanation pretty well answers the original query.

Nonetheless, in response to Smallwhite's question, my answer would be "yes, sometimes"; that is, in rapid speech, "je" is either dropped or crushed into the following syllable. Here is common transition in both French and English:

Je ne sais pas = I do not know
J'n'sais pas   = I don't know
Ch'pas        = Dunno

Ch'u pus capab' !!!
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vermillon
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 Message 6 of 14
09 July 2014 at 9:23pm | IP Logged 
smallwhite wrote:
In English, the subject can sometimes be omitted:
- Am trying. Will let you know.
- OK, will do.
- Looks great.

Do they sometimes omit the subject as well in French?


Yes - although to a lesser extent - in the same circumstances as what you cited in English, i.e. in messages that look somewhat telegraphic.
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tarvos
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 Message 7 of 14
10 July 2014 at 11:22am | IP Logged 
Yeah, or if you are extremely lazy when texting.
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smallwhite
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 Message 8 of 14
10 July 2014 at 1:50pm | IP Logged 
Thank you for the responses!


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