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Topic and topicalization are key notions to understand processes of syntactic and prosodic readjustments in Romance. More specifically, topicalization refers to the syntactic mechanisms and constructions available in a language to mark an expression as the topic of the sentence. Despite the lack of a uniform definition of topic, often based on the notions of aboutness or givenness, significant advances have been made in Romance linguistics since the 1990s, yielding a better understanding of the topicalization constructions, their properties, and their grammatical correlates. Prosodically, topics are generally described as being contained in independent intonational phrases. The syntactic and pragmatic characteristics of a specific topicalization construction, by contrast, depend both on the form of resumption of the dislocated topic within the clause and on the types of topic (aboutness, given, and contrastive topics). We can thus distinguish between hanging topic (left dislocation) (HTLD) and clitic left-dislocation (ClLD) for sentence-initial topics, and clitic right-dislocation (ClRD) for sentence-final dislocated constituents. These topicalization constructions are available in most Romance languages, although variation may affect the type and the obligatory presence of the resumptive element. Scholars working on topic and topicalization in the Romance languages have also addressed controversial issues such as the relation between topics and subjects, both grammatical (nominative) subjects and ‘oblique’ subjects such as dative experiencers and locative expressions. Moreover, topicalization has been discussed for medieval Romance, in conjunction with its alleged V2 syntactic status. Some topicalization constructions such as subject inversion, especially in the non-null subject Romance languages, and Resumptive Preposing may indeed be viewed as potential residues of medieval V2 property in contemporary Romance.

Article

Focus is key to understanding processes of syntactic and prosodic readjustments in the Romance languages. Since, prosodically, it must be the most prominent constituent in the sentence, focus associates with the nuclear pitch accent, which may be shifted from its default rightmost position when the syntactic position of the focus also changes. The application of specific syntactic operations depends both on the size and on the subtype of focus, although not always unambiguously. Subject inversion characterizes focus structures where the domain of focus covers either the whole sentence (broad-focus) or a single constituent (narrow-focus). Presentational constructions distinctively mark broad focus, avoiding potential ambiguity with an SVO structure where the predicate is the focus and the subject is interpreted as topic. In narrow-focus structures, the focus constituent typically occurs sentence-final (postverbal focalization), but it may also be fronted (focus fronting), depending on the specific interpretation associated with the focus. Semantically, focus indicates the presence of alternatives, and the different interpretations arise from the way the set of alternatives is pragmatically exploited, giving rise to a contextually open set (information focus), to contrast or correction (contrastive or corrective focus), or to surprise or unexpectedness (mirative focus). Whether a subtype of focus may undergo fronting in a Romance language is subject to variation. In most varieties it is indeed possible with contrastive or corrective focus, but it has been shown that focus fronting is also acceptable with noncontrastive focus in several languages, especially with mirative focus. Finally, certain focus-sensitive operators or particles directly interact with the narrow-focus constituent of the sentence and their association with focus has semantic effects on the interpretation of the sentence.

Article

Children’s acquisition of language is an amazing feat. Children master the syntax, the sentence structure of their language, through exposure and interaction with caregivers and others but, notably, with no formal tuition. How children come to be in command of the syntax of their language has been a topic of vigorous debate since Chomsky argued against Skinner’s claim that language is ‘verbal behavior.’ Chomsky argued that knowledge of language cannot be learned through experience alone but is guided by a genetic component. This language component, known as ‘Universal Grammar,’ is composed of abstract linguistic knowledge and a computational system that is special to language. The computational mechanisms of Universal Grammar give even young children the capacity to form hierarchical syntactic representations for the sentences they hear and produce. The abstract knowledge of language guides children’s hypotheses as they interact with the language input in their environment, ensuring they progress toward the adult grammar. An alternative school of thought denies the existence of a dedicated language component, arguing that knowledge of syntax is learned entirely through interactions with speakers of the language. Such ‘usage-based’ linguistic theories assume that language learning employs the same learning mechanisms that are used by other cognitive systems. Usage-based accounts of language development view children’s earliest productions as rote-learned phrases that lack internal structure. Knowledge of linguistic structure emerges gradually and in a piecemeal fashion, with frequency playing a large role in the order of emergence for different syntactic structures.