# Seminar on Information Structure and Word Order Variation Theoretical Preliminaries Gregory Ward Northwestern University Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.

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Seminar on Information Structure and Word Order Variation Theoretical Preliminaries Gregory Ward Northwestern University Universidade de Santiago de Compostela Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa 17 Xuño 2008

Information Structure Information packaging (Chafe 1976)

The Given-New Contract (Halliday 1967, Halliday & Hasan 1976): Given information tends to appear closer to the beginning of a sentence, while new information tends to appear closer to the end of a sentence.

Prague School Communicative Dynamism: a property of an expression that reflects its relative degree of importance in comparison with other expressions in the sentence.

Communicative Dynamism CD increases from the beginning to the end of an utterance, resulting in a tendency toward a given-before-new ordering of information.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but there were no pictures or conversations in it. [Lewis Carroll, Alices Adventures in Wonderland] (1)

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice the book her sister was reading had caught her attention, but no pictures or conversations appeared in it. (2)

In English, there is a strong tendency (but not a grammatical requirement) that the phrasal constituents be ordered with given information preceding new information.

A variety of noncanonical-word-order constructions serve to: (a) mark the information status of their constituents, and (b) facilitate processing through the placement of these constituents in given < new order.

The speakers choice of construction serves to structure the informational flow of the discourse.

Beds ringed the room, their iron feet sinking into thick shirdiks woven in colorful patterns of birds and flowers. At the foot of each bed rested a stocky wooden chest, festooned with designs of cranes and sheep, horses and leaves. [Wilson, D.L. I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade. 1998:133] (3)

Two chairs sat in the room, their iron feet sinking into thick shirdiks woven in colorful patterns of birds and flowers. #At the foot of a bed rested the chairs, their backs festooned with designs of cranes and sheep, horses and leaves. (4) Note the absence of any prior mention of a bed.

Noncanonical Word Order vs. Canonical Word Order both are subject to a preferred ordering of information; only NWO imposes such an ordering as a requirement for the felicity of the utterance.

Topic Discourse-old vs. discourse-new information Hearer-old vs. hearer-new information Link Open proposition Some Key Terms

Topic: What the utterance is about

More specifically, the topic is: the matter of current interest which a statement is about and with respect to which a proposition is to be interpreted as relevant. (Lambrecht 1994)

In English, the surface subject is the unmarked or default topic position.

Some Tests for Topichood The Question-Answer Test: Q: What did John eat? A: John ate a banana. Q: Who ate a banana? A: John ate a banana.

Accent: Q: What did John eat? A: John ate a BANANA. A: #JOHN ate a banana.

The as-for Test (Gundel 1974): As for John, he ate the banana. As for the banana, John ate it. The about Test (Reinhart 1980): She said about John that he ate the banana. She said about the banana that John ate it.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: #As for Alice, once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading…. (5)

Prince 1992 A binary distinction of given-new is insufficient Three distinctions: –Presupposition/focus –Discourse-old/discourse-new –Hearer-old/hearer-new

Table1. Hearer-oldHearer-new Discourse-oldPreviously evoked[Does not occur] Discourse-newNot evoked, but known (Prince 1981s unused) Brand-new

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, while scaling back a massive capital program, said Friday he would endorse a \$3.6 billion state construction budget that includes new money to build schools and millions of dollars for legislative pork-barrel projects. [Chicago Tribune, beginning of article] (6)

Inferrable Information Shares the distribution of discourse-old information in being linked to prior information.

Linking Relations a.I walked into the kitchen. On a tall counter lay a large book. b. I walked into the kitchen. #On a blue jacket lay a large book. (7 )

The link represents information that stands in a salient set relationship with information evoked in the prior context.

The set that relates the link to the prior context is the anchoring set, and the linguistic material licensing the inference to this set is the trigger.

a. I walked into the kitchen. On a tall counter lay a large book. (7) a tall counter is the link {things in a kitchen} is the anchoring set the kitchen is the trigger

Open Propositions Focus/Presupposition An Open Proposition (OP) is a proposition in which some element is open or unspecified.

(9) a.I found your mittens. b. I found X:Xε{objects} (I found something) c. X:Xε{people} found your mittens (Someone found your mittens) d. I did X:Xε{activities} (I did something)

The felicitous use of certain constructions requires that a particular OP be salient in the discourse context.

(10) a. Two sets of immigration bills currently before this session of Congress are giving observers both hope and worry. What is at stake are the immigration rights of gay people, and though gay legislation generally moves slowly, voting is expected soon. [Au Courant] OP: X:Xε{issues} is at stake (Something is at stake)

b. Triggs is a lexicographer. Over his desk hangs the 18 th -century dictionary maker Samuel Johnson's ironical definition: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words. What Triggs actually does is find alert readers who recognize new words or new usages for ordinary ones. [N.Y. Times News Service] OP: Triggs does X:Xε{activities} (Triggs does something)

The OP constitutes the presupposition. The instantiation of the variable constitutes the focus.

(11)a. Hey, look! Thats my friend Jeremy Triggs over there. Hes a lexicographer. What he does is find alert readers who recognize new words or new usages for ordinary ones. b. Hey, look! Thats my friend Jeremy Triggs over there. #What he does is find alert readers who recognize new words or new usages for ordinary ones.

Fin

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