Clefting transformations are used in English and many other languages to mark information structure.
It-Clefts are of the form:
It is/was/will be … that
where what comes between the first and the second part of the construction is the clefted noun phrase, prepositional phrase or adverb.
1. It is Kareem that makes the wonderful pasta.
2. It was in July that I last went abroad.
3. It is ridiculous that we have to learn this.
WH-cleft constructions can be of the form:
WH-word – is/was/ will be
In WH-cleft constructions, the clefted noun phrases, prepositional phrase, or adverb is placed after the verb be, and the rest of the clause is placed between the two parts of the construction.
4. The rose which I received yesterday was a black one.
5. The man who Kamana told us about is at the door.
6. The resort where they stayed at was recently renovated.
Cleft constructions are used to mark givenness.
In an it-cleft construction:
– the clefted phrase represents new information
– the rest of the sentence is given information
To answer the following information question:
7. Who was Manike talking to last evening?
The following it-clefted sentence can be used; where the answer to the question (i.e new information) is clefted:
8. It was Jaufar that Manike was talking to last evening.
Compare the above sentence with the one below
9. It was Manike that Jaufar was talking to last evening.
Does it answer the question in 7?
That the part of the sentence following that in an it-cleft sentence is evident because the clefted part can refer to something that was just mentioned in the previous sentence.
Kanbulo said that Hiyala had seen someone at the party that she knew from her school days. It turns ourt it was Fulhu that Hiyala saw at the party.
Does the element following that represent given information?
In WH-constructions, the new information comes after the verb be, and the rest of the clause is placed between the WH-word and the be verb.
10. What did Aiminaibee see at the mosque?
The appropriate answer to this would be:
11. What Aiminaibee saw at the mosque was Foolhudhigu Handi with a skull.
Why can’t sentences 12 or 13 be appropriate answers for question 10?
12. * The one who saw Foolhudhigu Handi with a skull was Aiminaibee.
13. * Where Aiminaibee saw Foolhudhigu handi was at the mosque.
As in an it-clefted sentence, the WH-clefted phrase is the new information and the rest of the sentence is given information.
I loved his last song. What I loved about it was the wonderful poetry.
The effect of both it-clefting and WH-clefting is to highlight which element is new information and which is given information.
In addition to this, both constructions can mark contrast.
14. Kanbulo said that Hiyala had seen someone at the party that she knew from her school days. It turns ourt it was Fulhu that Hiyala saw. (not Thakuru)
15. I loved his last song. What I loved about it was the wonderful poetry. (not the way he sang it)
So, why does English have two constructions with the same function?
The two constructions are usually used for different purposes and there IS a subtle difference:
– an it-cleft construction can be used to mark given information that the listener is not necessarily thinking about.
– a WH-construction assumes that the listener is thinking about the given information
It is more appropriate to start a historical narrative with an it-cleft rather than a WH-cleft construction.
16. It was with the intention of gaining independence from the Portuguese that the Utheemu brothers built the Kalhuohfunmi.
17. * What the Utheem brothers built the Kalhuohfunmi for was the intention of gaining independence from the Portuguese.
In English, as well as many other languages, intonation is an important information marking device.
Generally, noun phrases representing new information
– receive stronger stress that noun phrases representing given information
– are uttered on a slightly higher pitch than the rest of the sentence
This is called new-information stress.
A: Whose books are those on the floor?
B: They’re Jabir’s books.
In English, stress is also used to mark contrast:
A: Are those your books on the floor?
B: No, They’re not mine, they’re Jabir’s.
19. They made Kareem do an assignment in compensation for the test he missed, but they let off Goma with just a medical certificate.
Some languages (Japanese) have grammatical morphemes whose sole function is to mark categories of information structure.