Marking Information Structure


Givenness, topic and contrast are not inherent properties of particular noun phrases, but relational categories of information structure.
whether a noun phrase is contrastive or not can be identified only in light of the utterance or even the discourse in which it occurs

Definiteness, referentiality and the generic/specific contrast are inherent properties of the noun phrase.
whether a noun phrase is definite or indefinite can be decided even without knowing the sentence in which it occurs

Syntactic operations and other phenomena found in different languages can be described using these categories of information structure.

The same content may be expressed in a variety of ways – where the difference is often a pragmatic one.

The extent to which and the ways in which pragmatic information is encoded in morphology and syntax varies among languages.

a. Some languages have words whose only purpose is to indicate pragmatic categories (e.g. Japanese)
b. Some languages depend on syntactic structures (e.g. passives in English)
c. Many languages use intonation to mark pragmatic nuances

Fronting – a syntactic movement found in many languages, have different functions in different languages

In English fronting is used to mark givenness and the fronted noun phrases are usually contrastive

i. a fronted noun phrase represents given information:

Dhaleyka: She said you don’t like chocolates.
Kaidha: Chocolates I can definitely live without.

ii. a noun phrase can be fronted if its referent is part of a set that has been mentioned earlier in the discourse (even if the referent itself may not have been):

Dhaleyka: What is your least favourite dessert?
Kaidha: Chocolates, I loathe!

ii. in English fronted noun phrases are usually contrastive

Dhaleyka: Do you like ice cream?
Kaidha: I love ice cream, but chocolates I loathe.

In English, the fronted noun phrase must be the more salient element of the sentence; otherwise the sentence would be pragmatically inappropriate.

Dhaleyka: What’s your favourite dessert?
Kaidha: Puddings I love, especially with ice cream and wafers.

In some languages (e.g. Mandarin Chinese) fronted noun phrases represent the topic and do not necessarily have a semantic role in the rest of the sentence; neither do they have to be contrastive.

Left-dislocation though it is an operation that is syntactically similar to fronting, has many differences – the main one being the pronoun used in left-dislocated sentences.

Chocolates, I can’t live without them. – left-dislocated
Chocolates I can’t live without. – fronted

Left-dislocated noun phrases are set off from the rest of the sentence by a short pause (illustrated by a comma in writing)

A main function of left-dislocation is to reintroduce (usually contrastively) a noun phrase that has not been mentioned for a while in a particular discourse.
I love reading. I’d read anything once. I’ve read all of John Grisham’s. Some of Sydney Sheldon’s books are pretty good too. Danielle Steel also I have read, some of hers are wonderful too. Then there is J K Rowling of course! Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen are also wonderful authors. But Grisham, he is my favourite.

In the above example, the speaker lists a number of authors and comments on them. Grisham mentioned early in the discourse, is reintroduced in the last sentence. Because nothing has been said about him in the previous four sentences, the speaker reintroduces Grisham as a left-dislocated noun phrase.

Left-dislocation is also contrastive – in the above example, Grisham clearly contrasts with Sheldon, Steel, Rowling, Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen.

As a result of its double function, left-dislocation is typically used when speakers go through lists and make comments on each individual element in the list.

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By azu