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In The Suicide Squad (2021), Silvio Luna is a dictator of Corto Maltese:

Silvio Luna: Since I took control, the majority love me. But some find me to be an unacceptable leader.

Harley: What kinds of dicks would find that? Don't they know how awesome you are? Have you shown them the birdies?

Silvio Luna: It may sound archaic to someone from your part of the world, but my people, the Corto Malteseans, they're very old-fashioned.

What does "it" in "it may" refer to?

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  • What would be lost if we dropped the rest and concentrated solely on "It may sound archaic…"? Then, and always, the "It…" means "the subject under discussion…" Oct 24 at 19:57
  • "I know what 'it' means well enough, when I find a thing," said the Duck: "it's generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?" A Caucus Race and a Long Tale
    – outis
    Oct 25 at 14:35
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In the given sentence

It may sound archaic to someone from your part of the world, but my people, the Corto Malteseans, they're very old-fashioned.

"It" is not a dummy subject" here. "It" refers to the statement that "my people, the Corto Malteseans, they're very old-fashioned." and also to the further suggestion that the local people prefer their leader to be married. That is what "may sound archaic" to the listeners.

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    Why would the statement "my people ... they're very old-fashioned" sound archaic to anyone?
    – minnmass
    Oct 24 at 6:41
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    I have to agree with minnmass here. This cannot be what "it" is referring to; if anything, it's referring to the old-fashioned ideas themselves (which aren't stated in the given excerpt, but are implied in the scene itself). See Davislor's answer for what I believe is the correct interpretation. Oct 24 at 17:14
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    I agree with @minnmass. "my people are old-fashioned" is the explanation as to why "it" sounds archaic to Harley. "It" refers to the earlier conversation, i.e. that Silvio is considered an unacceptable leader even though (according to Harley) they're awesome.
    – Flater
    Oct 25 at 9:16
  • Note that I mentioned the people wanting the leader to be married as the ultimate value for "it" Oct 25 at 14:29
  • scrapsfromtheloft.com/movies/the-suicide-squad-2021-transcript QUOTE: //You want me to what?// To marry me. //....// Good, listen. Since I took control, the majority love me. But some find me to be an unacceptable leader.//...// And I am a bachelor // So they want you to get hitched?//
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 25 at 18:39
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This seems to be a "dummy subject", or a "anticipatory subject". The word "It" refers to the thing mentioned later in the sentence. In your example, "It" = "the thing that may sound archaic to you".

(This thing that may sound archaic to you) may sound archaic to you.

These kind of subjects are fairly common in English Expressions, especially with "It is (adjective) (to/that/...)". Here are some examples:

It's hard to believe that you're 40!

It's good to hear from you.

It seems certain that she isn't coming.

Does it sound strange to you?

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    None of these examples match the question, the accepted answer is clearly correct in this context. Most cases of 'it may X, but Y' the 'it' is not a dummy but refers to refers to the fact of Y. 'it may be unusual, but I like bats' and 'The fact that I like bats may be unusual' carry the same meaning, the 'it' refers to the fact about to be elucidated. Oct 23 at 21:33
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    @PeteKirkham The "It seems certain" and "Does it sound strange" both match the question exactly. The accepted answer is clearly incorrect.
    – GSerg
    Oct 23 at 23:11
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    I think this is a correct term for it, but I much prefer the term "anticipatory subject", since the implied subject comes later in the sentence. It distinguishes it from dummy subject phrases like "it's raining", where there isn't a subject at all.
    – MJD
    Oct 24 at 2:47
  • Yes, some of the examples you give are also not dummy subject. They don't match the question in that they do not have the interruption by the other speaker which means we never get to the clear statement of what 'it' is. Oct 24 at 21:10
  • In three of your examples, "it" clearly refers to the second half of the sentence: "To believe that you're 40 is hard!" "To hear from you is good." "That she isn't coming seems certain." and in the last one the "it" clearly refers to some antecedent which was previously mentioned.
    – user253751
    Oct 25 at 10:33
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Here’s how you can tell that “It” here is not a dummy subject. See whether there is a referent you can substitute for it or there that makes sense. There is in this conversation, but it is left implicit by the speaker, and filled in by the other person to confirm that she understood: “So they want you to get hitched?”

That they want me to get married may sound archaic to someone from your part of the world, but my people, the Corto Malteseans, they’re very old-fashioned.

It may sound archaic to someone from your part of the world that they want me to get married, but my people, the Corto Malteseans, they’re very old-fashioned.

Some sources do call this kind of anticipatory it, where the true subject appears later for emphasis, a “dummy subject.” In this context, I think that’s different from what people talking about dummy subjects in this discussion are thinking of, and we’re disagreeing whether there is a referent at all.

You cannot do this with sentences such as “It’s raining,” “There is no way for me to lose,” or “There is nothing we can do,” because It or there in those sentences does not have a referent at all. If there were a valid substitution, like “that they want me to get married,” above, it would not be a dummy subject.

If you try to rigorously classify sentences like, “There are two shops in this village,” or “It is Saturday,” you run into ambiguities. You could substitute “Two shops are in this village,” but we normally use “there are” as an existential there, to introduce a new subject and state that it exists. If we were referring to two shops we already knew about, we’d say something like, “Those are the two shops in the village,” instead. It’s also possible to say, “Today is Saturday,” but “It’s Saturday” is a lot like, “It’s nighttime,” “It’s warm,” “It’s sunny” or “It’s not a fair world,” so you can interpret it either way. In practice, this doesn’t confuse anyone, because the two possible interpretations mean the same thing.

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  • In written English, I really expect a sentence that starts, "It may seem archaic to you, but ..." to conclude by naming the thing that may seem archaic. The sentence in the script doesn't fit that pattern. But since it's spoken English, perhaps it's not even strictly grammatical. The character might have changed his mind mid-sentence about whether he wanted to mention marriage. Even later, he doesn't say the M word himself; he prompts the other character to say it.
    – David K
    Oct 24 at 23:45
  • @DavidK It’s a valid interpretation that he let his sentence trail off. It sounds to me like he does say what it is, by implication (“And I am a bachelor.”) People do sometimes refer obliquely to things that are embarrassing. And movie dialogue, while spoken, isn’t extemporaneous (except in comedies like Borat, where some scenes are improvised or candid). In most movies like Suicide Squad, every line is there for a reason, or it would’ve been cut.
    – Davislor
    Oct 25 at 2:53
  • Of course when the actors say what's written in a script it isn't extemporaneous for them -- but I was participating in the illusion that the character isn't reading a script. It does seem he's trying to communicate the idea indirectly. "And I am a bachelor" was what I meant by "prompting". On second thought I think it's more likely he did not change his mind mid-sentence; it's just a sentence that's formed differently than you'd expect in formal writing, because this is (supposedly) informal speech.
    – David K
    Oct 25 at 3:17
  • @DavidK Yeah, it’s meant to sound naturalistic, but because it’s an action movie, the dialogue is a lot tighter than a real conversation. Robert Altemeyer’s films are unique because he felt the way actors always wait for each other to deliver their lines, and know whose turn it is to speak, is unnatural. Audiences just accept it in movies and on TV because we grew up with it. So he told his actors to talk over each other like real people do.
    – Davislor
    Oct 25 at 3:22
  • They talk over each other in His Girl Friday too. But I get your point. And one way to tighten things up is to take grammatical shortcuts, so again that's a reason not to scrutinize the grammar too closely.
    – David K
    Oct 25 at 3:32
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It can be interpreted as referring to the earlier phrase "some find me to be an unacceptable leader", or to the later explication of why they find him unacceptable. If the latter, this is an example of the anticipatory it. Grammarians disagree on whether the term "dummy" applies in such cases; that term implies that it's merely a placeholder and does not refer to anything. But here, it does refer to something.

The anticipatory it is not always called a dummy subject, since it does refer to something real that follows in the sentence. However, it is still often classified as a fake subject, since it replaces a real one.

https://editorsmanual.com/articles/it-there-dummy-subjects-grammar/

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  • In context, I doubt the character expects an American like Harley to find thinking of a leader as unacceptable an archaic concept in and of itself. That could make sense in general, but I don’t think it quite works here.
    – Davislor
    Oct 24 at 7:00
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You actually need more of the script to answer this question:

Good, listen. Since I took control, the majority love me. But some find me to be an unacceptable leader.

[laughs] What kinds of dicks would find that? Don’t they know how awesome you are? Have you shown them the birdies?

It may sound archaic to someone from your part of the world, but my people, the Corto Malteseans, they’re very old-fashioned.

Corto Malteseans, of course.

And I am a bachelor.

So they want you to get hitched?

The "it" refers to getting married. Essentially, some people do not approve of him because he is not married.

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    @Acccumulation While Stefan didn't present evidence for their argument, neither did this answer. It would be greatly improved by quoting a reputable source on English grammar.
    – CJ Dennis
    Oct 24 at 3:28
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    This makes more sense than the currently accepted answer. In both, "it" refers to some fact to be specified later, but "my people being very old-fashioned may seem archaic to you" is practically a tautology whereas "wanting me to get married may seem archaic to you, but my people are very old-fashioned" makes perfect sense. Oct 24 at 10:21
  • This is the most correct answer, but to be most specific what "it" refers to in this context is that some of his people find him to be an unacceptable leader because he is still a bachelor and though the entire concept might sound a little archaic to someone from "your part of the world", his people (the Corto Malteseans) are very old-fashioned and many still hold to the archaic tradition that a proper leader needs a wife or he is not capable of being an acceptable leader
    – Ron Kyle
    Oct 24 at 17:54
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Actually it is just a placeholder and does not refer to anything. It is an empty subject, also called an ambient, artificial, or dummy subject. Since all non-imperative English clauses must have a subject, it fills the empty slot of a subject in sentences that do not contain an actual subject. It is an example of a syntactic expletive -- in other words, it does not contribute anything to the semantic meaning of a sentence, but still plays a syntactic role.

It may sound archaic to someone from your part of the world, but my people, the Corto Malteseans, they're very old-fashioned.

In this particular example, it is an anticipatory "it", and it is used by Silvio Luna to emphasize that he distances himself away from the statement that Corto Malteseans' old-fashioned mentality could be potentially seen as archaic, but at the same time he also acknowledges the statement as a potential valid observation that could be made by someone from Harley's part of the world.

Another example of a word being used as an empty subject, besides "it", is the word "there". For example:

There are a few people disagreeing with the accepted answer being correct.

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    If it doesn't refer to anything, how is it anticipatory? Anticipatory implies that there is something later it is referring to. Oct 24 at 1:23

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