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					Seminar on Information Structure and Word Order Variation

                     Introduction


                    Gregory Ward
                Northwestern University

     Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
        Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa


                     16 Xuño 2008
         Information Structure
• Given (old, familiar) vs. new information
    – ―new‖ in what sense?
    – ―given‖ in what sense?

• Sentences with all new information are
  informative, but rare:
     – This guy sent a letter to a friend in a big city
       about a controversial topic.

• Sentences with all given information are
  common, but uninformative:
    – He did it.
        Information Structure
• Most sentences contain a mixture of given
  and new information:

   – My friend John sent one of his friends in
     Santiago a letter about the serious
     depression he’s been suffering from.

   – My friend John sent one of his friends in
     Santiago a letter about the serious
     depression he’s been suffering from.
        Information Structure
Many aspects of information structure:
 • Reference (choice of referring expression)
 • Cohesion (coherence relations)
 • Topic (discourse topic vs. sentence topic)
 • Focus (focus/presupposition, common ground,
   question under discussion (QUD))
 • Intonation/prosody
         Information Structure
• Word order variation (―functions of syntax‖)
  • Each language provides its speakers with a
    range of truth-conditionally-equivalent
    syntactic options (or ―constructions‖).
  • Differences among them are entirely in terms of
    information structure.
  • Truth-conditional equivalence: the gold standard
    of word order variation.
          Word Order Variation
Example
  Preposing (or ―topicalization‖) in English: the
  (optional) sentence-initial placement of a
  subcategorized (obligatory) argument of a
  transitive verb.
   • That I didn‘t know .
   • The first part I finished  last week.
   • People that like I have no respect for .
        Word Order Variation:
             Preposing
 • Basic (or canonical) word order
       I didn‘t know that.
 • Marked (or noncanonical) word order
       That I didn‘t know .

The two forms are true under precisely the same
conditions: i.e, they are semantically, or truth-
conditionally, equivalent.
      Word Order Variation:
    Some Important Questions

• Are all marked word orders optional?
• Do all speakers use all word orders?
• When do children acquire marked word
  orders?
• What is the alternative to using a marked
  word order (the ―envelope of variation‖)?
  Examples of Word Order
    Variation in English

Canonical transitive sentences
(subject-verb-object (SVO) word order,
unmarked)

  • Pat ate that banana.
           English Noncanonical
              Constructions
A. Preposing constructions

   1. Topicalization
       • That banana Pat ate. (This one she gave away.)

   2. Focus Preposing
       • A: Did Pat eat this banana?
         B: No. That banana Pat ate.
              English Noncanonical
          Constructions: Preposing, cont.
3.   Proposition Assessment
     a)   Proposition Affirmation
          • They said Pat would eat that banana, and eat that banana he did!
          • And what a banana it was, too!
          • A: Pat‘s amazing.
            B: That she is!
          • A: Soup or salad?
            B: Soup.
            A: Soup it is!
              English Noncanonical
          Constructions: Preposing, cont.
3.   Proposition Assessment (cont.)
     b)   Proposition Suspension
           •   I‘m upset that Pat ate a banana, if eat a banana
               he did.

     c)   Proposition Denial (―Epitomization‖)
           • Chomsky, you‘re not.
           • Stupid, she‘s not.
English Noncanonical Constructions

B. Passive (get and be)
   1. Passive with by-phrase
      • That banana was eaten by Pat.
      • That banana got eaten by Pat.

   2. Passive without by-phrase
      • That banana was eaten.
      • That banana got eaten.
 English Noncanonical Constructions

D. Inversion
    • Eating that banana is Pat.
English Noncanonical Constructions

 E. Gapping
    • Chris ate the orange and Pat, that
      banana.
English Noncanonical Constructions

 F. Right Node Raising
    • Pat bought - and Chris ate - a banana.
  English Noncanonical Constructions

G. Left-Dislocation
    • That banana, Pat ate it.
    • Pat, she ate that banana.
  English Noncanonical Constructions

H. Right-Dislocation
   • He ate that banana, Pat.
   • Pat ate it, that banana.


   1. Right-Dislocation with concomitant
      copula deletion
       • Tasty piece of fruit, that banana.
  English Noncanonical Constructions

I. Heavy NP Shift
   • Pat gave to Chris that huge overripe banana
     from Brazil.
   English Noncanonical Constructions

J. Dative Alternation (―double object construction‖)
    • Pat gave Chris that banana.
    • Pat gave that banana to Chris.
English Noncanonical Constructions

 K. Particle Movement
     • Pat ate that banana up.
     • Pat ate up that banana.
English Noncanonical Constructions

 Combinations
   1. Cleft + passive with by-phrase
      • It was that banana that was eaten by Pat.
      • What was eaten by Pat was that banana.

   2. Inversion + passive with by-phrase
      • Being eaten by Pat is a banana.

   3. Reverse wh-cleft + RD
      • That‘s what I want, that banana.
English Noncanonical Constructions

Combinations (cont.)
  4. Reverse wh-cleft + LD + passive
      • That banana, that‘s what was eaten.
  5. Cleft + gapping
      • It was Chris who ate the orange and Pat, that
        banana.
  6. Gapping + inversion + passive with by-
     phrase + proposition suspension
      • Being eaten in a frenzy by Chris was that
        orange, and by Pat, that banana, if eaten they
        were.
        English Noncanonical
           Constructions
Canonical intransitive sentences:

 • A lovely fountain is in the garden
 • A lovely fountain stands in the garden.
English Noncanonical Constructions




   A. Inversion
      1. Locative
          • In the garden is a lovely
            fountain.
          • In the garden stands a lovely
            fountain.
          English Noncanonical
             Constructions
B. Existential there-Sentences
   • There‘s a lovely fountain in the garden.
          English Noncanonical
             Constructions
C. Presentational there-Sentences
  •   There stands a lovely fountain in the garden.
        English Noncanonical
           Constructions
Combinations
1. Existential there + Preposing
    • In the garden, there‘s a lovely fountain.

2. Presentational there + Heavy NP Shift
    • There stands in the garden a lovely fountain.

3. Inversion + Cleft
    • It is in the garden that stands a lovely fountain.
   Investigating Noncanonical
    Constructions Empirically
Three prevailing methodologies:
   • Intuitions
   • Psycholinguistic experiments
   • Corpus-based investigations

Each has its strengths* and
weaknesses!
*note CCCvCCC phonology!
  The Three Methodologies:
       Pros and Cons
Intuitions
 • Pros
   • Useful in guiding initial stages of
     hypothesis formation.
   • Gaps: often the relevant corpus data do
     not exist (which does not mean that the
     construction or form is ungrammatical!).
      • Example: recursive preposing
       Recursive Preposing?
I find it difficult to accept the fact that I have
no control over some aspects of my life.

      

The fact that I have no control over some
aspects of my life I find it difficult to accept
.
      Recursive Preposing?
The fact that I have no control over some
aspects of my life I find it difficult to accept
.

     

The fact that some aspects of my live I
have no control over  I find it difficult to
accept .
  The Three Methodologies:
       Pros and Cons
Intuitions
  • Cons
     • Meta-linguistic (―acceptability‖)
       judgements are notoriously variable and
       unstable.
     • Judgements of unacceptability do not
       come labeled with the source of the
       unacceptability (e.g. syntax, semantic,
       pragmatics).
     • Felicity or appropriateness depends
       crucially on context of utterance — often
  The Three Methodologies:
       Pros and Cons
Experiments
 • Pros
   • Extremely controlled environment; can
     zero in on very specific features on the
     discourse context
   • Replicability
  The Three Methodologies:
       Pros and Cons
Experiments
 • Cons
   • Labor-intensive; costly
   • Requires extensive
     preparation/permissions
   • Ecological validity: To what degree does
     a subject‘s performance in a laboratory
     reflect what s/he does in a natural
     setting?
   • We‘re never quite sure what subjects
     are doing while performing an artificial
  The Three Methodologies:
       Pros and Cons
Corpus-based studies
  • Pros
    • Practical considerations: easy to obtain
      huge amounts of naturally-occurring data
      (NOD)
    • Gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes,
      zettabytes, yottabytes…
    • NOD abstracts away from individual
      variation.
    • For historical periods/extinct languages,
      NOD is often the only available source.
  The Three Methodologies:
       Pros and Cons
Corpus-based studies
  • Cons
    • Not everything in a corpus — especially on
      the internet — is grammatical!
       • Non-native speakers, errors, language play,
         machine-generated language, etc.
    • Data requires theory!
       • Example: The problem is is that…
         (100,000+ hits on google)

Solution: multiple sources of data!
             The Corpus
• Analyses of noncanonical constructions
  are based on a corpus of Standard
  American English (SAE), consisting of
  several thousand tokens of NOD.
• Written sources include newspapers,
  magazines, novels, nonfiction books,
  academic prose, and portions of the Brown
  Corpus.
                  The Corpus
• ‗Oral‘ sources include personal conversations, TV
  shows, films, interviews from Studs Terkel (Terkel
  1974), and transcripts of the 1986 Challenger
  Commission meetings. (Are screenplays ―oral‖?)
• Style: formal vs. informal; planned vs. unplanned
• Data not collected randomly (sampling problems), so
  there is no systematic data on frequency.
• However, I do have some data on the frequency of
  one noncanonical construction!
    The Preponderance of Preposing
• Is preposing more common in writing or in speech? In
  formal or in informal contexts?
• Issues to consider:
   – The relationship between writing and speech
       • Does a noncanonical word order ‗compensate‘ for the
         absence of prosody?
       • Does a canonical word order ‗amnesty‘ phonological
         dispreferences?
   – As a complex syntactic construction, would a
     noncanonical word order be more like to occur in written
     (i.e. planned) language?
    The Preponderance of Preposing
• My valiant attempt to compare the written and spoken
  language of a single speaker (Richard M. Nixon) was
  somewhat inconclusive.
• In his book Six Crises, there were a total of 9,719
  sentences and 69 preposings, for a ratio of 140:1. How
  does this compare with other constructions?
• Problems in counting (especially by machine):
Nixon: That you don‘t want to answer, huh?
Dean: The more we work on it, the more questions we
      see—
Nixon: —That you don‘t want to answer, huh?
[The Presidential Transcripts. 1974:95]

				
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