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date: 05 March 2021

Topicalization in the Romance Languagesfree

  • Silvio CruschinaSilvio CruschinaUniversity of Helsinki


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.

1. Introduction: Definitions and Types of Topic

Topicalization refers to the syntactic mechanisms and constructions available in a language to mark an expression as the topic of the sentence. Together with focus, topic constitutes a principal notion of information structure, which may affect the grammatical properties of a sentence at different levels: semantic, syntactic, and prosodic. As is often the case with basic terminology, topic has been used with several different meanings in linguistics, thus becoming one of the most intractable notions. Most of the relevant definitions are based on the notion of ‘aboutness’ and/or that of ‘givenness’. On the one hand, the definition of topic based on ‘aboutness’ may lead to confusion with the notion of subject (Chafe, 1976), which has also been, since Aristotle’s Categories, defined as what the statement (more specifically, the predicate) is about. On the other hand, starting with the Prague School, the notion of topic, called ‘theme’, has been assimilated to old or given information. While it is undoubtedly true that topic constituents are most typically inferable from the context or related to the discourse, it is, however, also undeniable that there are also cases of topic constituents that convey or introduce new information.

Before examining the topicalization constructions available in the Romance languages, some definitions and clarifications are therefore in order. First of all, in functionalist approaches to discourse, topic is generally understood as a pretheoretical notion that refers to coherent stretches of discourse ranging from single sentences to cohesive texts that take the grammatical form of sentences (see, e.g., Givón, 1983, 1990). This concept of discourse topic must be distinguished from that of sentence topic, which is instead based on the notion of aboutness and defines what a sentence is about (see, e.g., Lambrecht, 1994; Reinhart, 1982; Strawson, 1964). It is sentence topic that constitutes a key notion of information structure and that is relevant to those pragmatic phenomena that display grammatical correlates in the sentence structure. Due to its aboutness nature, sentence topic has also been labeled aboutness topic. According to Reinhart (1982), aboutness topics must be referential, but need not correspond to old information.

Gundel (1988) does not deny the aboutness nature of topic, but distinguishes between two dimensions of givenness (see article “Focus and Focus Structures in the Romance Languages” in this encyclopedia, forthcoming; see also Cruschina, 2012; Gundel & Fretheim, 2004; Lambrecht, 1994). According to a referential dimension, a whole hierarchy of givenness conditions on topics has been suggested ranging from type identifiable, to familiar, to active and focus of attention (Gundel, Hedberg, & Zacharski, 1993). The referents denoted by the topic expressions within a sentence tend to be familiar to the interlocutors, in the sense that at the time of the utterance the addressee must have a mental representation of their referents. By contrast, a relational dimension concerns the sentence-internal opposition between the constituents of a sentence, so that topic identifies what the sentence is about, while the comment is what is predicated of the topic (Reinhart, 1982).

The referential dimension is especially relevant to the choice between alternative referring expressions (e.g., pronouns vs full noun phrases). However, referentially given expressions (e.g., pronouns) can well be part of the assertion and hence fall within the focus domain from a relational viewpoint. It is thus generally recognized that it is ultimately the relational dimension that constitutes the core of information structure, inasmuch as it deals with the propositional content that is linguistically encoded in the format of a sentence, and with how this information is packaged according to discourse functions and to the knowledge and beliefs of the speaker and the hearer(s) (see Chafe, 1976; Halliday, 1967; Lambrecht, 1994; Prince, 1981, 1984).

The notions of topicality and referential givenness have nonetheless been particularly central in the linguistic studies on topicalization in Romance, insofar as they have contributed to the identification of two types of topic with distinct grammatical properties: aboutness topic (AT) and given topic (GT). ATs identify what the sentence is about. By contrast, GTs are constituents that convey old and anaphoric information, and that are restated by the speaker from the previous discourse. In Romance, they do not generally identify the aboutness argument of the sentence, but may restore into the sentence the aboutness topic of the previous discourse.1 Consider the following Italian example, where the aboutness topic i gladiatori is subsequently restated by the speaker and dislocated as a given topic:


‘The gladiators entered the arena, [they] marched, [they] greeted the public and especially hailed the emperor, then [they] used to go in front of the gallery […] and there was the arena, which was practically a wooden stage covered with sand and on this they, the gladiators, used to fight.’ (Frascarelli, 2017, p. 478)

The topic established in the context can be divided into two sub-topics, which introduce an alternative-based opposition with a separate predicate for each alternative: this is characteristic of contrastive topics (CTs) (see Büring, 1999, 2003; Frascarelli, 2017, p. 477; Krifka, 2007):


As will be shown in the next section, different kinds of topicalization and dislocation constructions in Romance are sensitive to the type of topic.

Other types of topic have been identified in the literature: scene-setting topics, known also as frame-setting topics or limiting topics. In fact, these constituents do not fit in the typology of topics outlined in this section, in that the sentences they introduce are not about them, nor are they given. Despite their different precise functions, they generally “limit the applicability of the main predication to a certain restricted domain” (Chafe, 1976, p. 50) and so restrict the dimension in which the following proposition should be evaluated (Krifka, 2007). See Frascarelli (2017) and Stark (see article “Hanging Topics and Frames: Syntax, Discourse, Diachrony” in this encyclopedia, forthcoming) for more details about frames in Romance.

This article is structured as follows. In the section “Topicalization and Dislocation Constructions” the topicalization and dislocation constructions available in Romance will be reviewed, highlighting differences across structures and languages. The section “Topic-Comment in Romance: Debate and Controversy” deals with some controversial issues concerning the Topic−Comment articulation of the sentence, and in particular the relation between topics and subjects. Finally, “Topicalization in Medieval Romance and Potential Residues,” discusses topicalization in medieval Romance, also in relation to other syntactic properties of the medieval Romance languages.

2. Topicalization and Dislocation Constructions

Romance languages make use of syntactic topicalization strategies to mark various kinds of topic constituents, typically under mechanisms of dislocation (see article “Dislocation in the Romance Languages: Syntax, Semantics, Discourse, Acquisition”, forthcoming and “Hanging Topics and Frames: Syntax, Discourse, Diachrony” in this encyclopedia, forthcoming). A topic expression is generally made prominent in a sentence-initial position; this is why the most discussed instance of topicalization in the literature is left dislocation. This term has been used to refer to different constructions that show considerable variation from a crosslinguistic perspective (see, e.g., Alexiadou, 2006; López, 2016). What all left-dislocation constructions have in common is the presence of a sentence-initial topical constituent that is connected to a resumptive element inside the clause. The resumptive element can be a regular personal pronoun or an epithet, as typical of hanging topic (left-dDislocation) (HT(LD)) in Romance, or a clitic pronoun in a structure which has become known as Clitic Left Dislocation (ClLD).2

2.1. Hanging Topic (Left-Dislocation) (HT(LD)) and Clitic Left-Dislocation (ClLD)

Starting with Cinque (1983, 1990), the contrast between HT(LD) and ClLD has been described in detail. Both ClLD and HT(LD) involve an AT, but the two constructions have different syntactic properties (Benincà, 1988, 2001; López, 2009; Sauzet, 1989; Villalba, 2000, 2009; see De Cat, 2007, for an apparently different behaviour of spoken French). Let us consider the following examples:


Sentence (3b) is an Italian example of ClLD, where the dislocated constituent a tuo fratello ‘to your brother’ is picked up by the dative clitic pronoun gli ‘to him’ attached to the verb. In (3a), by contrast, we have an instance of HT(LD), where the resumptive element is the strong pronoun lui ‘he’.

Whenever available, the resumptive clitic is obligatory in most Romance varieties (4a,b), but in some languages (e.g., Italian and French) its presence may depend on the syntactic category of the preposed topic, proving obligatory only with internal arguments but optional in other cases (4c) (Abeillé Godard, & Sabio, 2008; Benincà, 1988; Cinque, 1977, 1990; Cruschina, 2010, 2016; Delais-Roussarie, Doetjes, & Sleeman, 2004; De Cat, 2007; Leonetti, 2010; López, 2009; Vallduví, 1992). In Portuguese, a clitic may be missing with a dislocated direct object (4a), giving rise to what has been analyzed as a different construction that co-exists in the language with ClLD (4b), that is, topicalization or left-dislocation (Barbosa, 2001; Duarte, 1987; Raposo, 1998):3



Other important differences between HT(LD) and ClLD have to do with the syntactic category of the dislocated topic, with their syntactic distribution, and with the number of possible topics per sentence. HTs are always specific indefinite or referential definite noun phrases and cannot be preceded by prepositions. On the other hand, ClLD topics are not subject to categorial restrictions: definite, specific, and non-specific indefinite noun phrases, adjectival and prepositional phrases, and even subordinate clauses can all equally undergo ClLD. As for their distribution, HT(LD) is a root phenomenon, while ClLD can also occur in embedded clauses. Moreover, more than one dislocated element are allowed with ClLD, but not with HT(LD), which only admits one dislocated topic. A combination of the two types of dislocated constituent is also possible, but the hanging topic has to come first:


On the basis of these syntactic differences and of further tests, including connectedness, reconstruction, and sensitivity to islands, it generally assumed that while ClLD applies to a sentential constituent, HT(LD) does not: the dislocated constituent is external to the clause.

Some scholars have suggested that HT(LD) and ClLD are also different interpretively. Cinque (1983, p. 95) proposes that HT(LD) encodes new or unexpected topics (roughly equivalent to our ATs), while Villalba (2000, 2009) claims that HT(LD) involves discourse topics but not sentence topics. Despite the typology of topics outlined in “Introduction: Definitions and Types of Topic,” it is often difficult to identify the type of a left-dislocated topic, inasmuch as it depends on the specific contextual and discourse conditions (see also Brunetti, 2009a, 2009b). On the range of pragmatic uses and social-interaction functions of topicalization, dislocation and HT(LD), see also Ashby (1988), Gregory and Michaelis (2001), Pekarek Doehler et al. (2015), Prévost (2003), and Silva-Corvolán (1984).

In the case of multiple topics under ClLD, as in (7) and (8), it is generally acknowledged that the first counts as AT, while the others are instances of GTs. This means that both ATs and GTs can undergo ClLD, also simultaneously:



There can be more than one GTs within the same sentence, but only one AT is allowed: this is assumed to be the highest, most external topic. As mentioned, however, the precise topic type at issue will depend on the context.4 Topicalization may also involve CTs, as shown in (2). Some scholars have claimed that multiple topics are syntactically constrained and hierarchically ordered. This has been represented by means of different topic positions in the left periphery of the clause (Benincà & Poletto, 2004; Bianchi & Frascarelli, 2010; Frascarelli & Hinterhölzl, 2007):5



Whereas Benincà and Poletto’s classification is based on syntactic properties, the types of topic in Frascarelli and Hinterhölzl (2007) are defined in terms of different information-structure properties and are also assumed to be associated with distinct prosodic contours in Italian: L*+H for ATs, H* for CTs, and L* for GTs.

From a prosodic viewpoint, in Romance, ClLD topics form independent intonational phrases (see also Poletto & Bocci, 2016, and references therein). More fine-grained analyses, however, have called for a refinement of this generalization: Feldhausen (2010), for instance, provides evidence that, in Catalan, that the insertion of a prosodic boundary is obligatory at the right edge of the ClLD topic, but not before it. As a consequence, it would be inaccurate to claim that ClLD topics surrounded by lexical material are exhaustively contained in an independent prosodic constituent.

2.2. Clitic Right-Dislocation (ClRD)

Clitic right-dislocation (ClRD) is a dislocation construction that is syntactically very similar to ClLD, except for the fact that the topic constituent is positioned at the end of the clause (Belletti, 2001; Benincà, 1988; Cecchetto, 1999, 2000; Jones, 1993; Samek-Lodovici, 2015; Vallduví, 1992; Villalba, 2000, 2009). Any syntactic type of constituent that is amenable to ClLD, can also undergo ClRD. Similarly, a resumptive clitic pronoun appears within the sentence core with ClRD (10), although in some varieties the clitic may be omitted even with direct objects (10c):


The structure with no clitic resumption (11c) has been associated with a different construction altogether, named ‘marginalization’, but this construction seems to be present only in Italian, and not in Catalan, Spanish, or Portuguese, nor in several Italian dialects (Cardinaletti, 2001, 2002; Cruschina, 2010; Frascarelli. 2000; López, 2009). Another structure that should not be assimilated to ClRD is ‘afterthought’, which, in spite of the similar interpretive properties, is not syntactically integrated to the preceding clause (Cecchetto, 1999; Grosz & Ziv, 1998; Villalba, 2000, 2009).

Despite the many syntactic similarities, ClLD and ClRD must be told apart from an interpretive viewpoint. ATs and CTs are not admitted in ClRD: only GTs are allowed. Being already active in the discourse or anaphoric with respect to the immediately previous discourse, GTs are in fact optional, inasmuch as the corresponding resumptive clitic alone would be sufficient to restore the missing topical expression in the utterance. The fact that ClRD is restricted to GTs does not entail that GTs are in turn restricted to ClRD. As discussed in the section “Hanging Topic (Left-Dislocation),” in addition to ATs, ClLD may also involve GTs.

ClLD and ClRD of GTs are commonly found in an argument-focus structure, as in (11). The given constituent il pane ‘the bread’ in (11A) repeats the AT of the previous question and can thus be optionally restored as a GT by either ClLD or ClRD.


Under this view, we can conclude that the function of ClRD is not to mark topicality, but rather givenness. This assumption is supported by the observation that topicality is a relational notion (cf. the section “Introduction: Definitions and Types of Topic”), involving a partition of the sentence into a Topic and a Comment. We thus expect topicalization to involve a sentence-initial constituent that is marked as topic with respect to the Comment, which must instead be placed in the scope of the topic (see Rizzi, 1997).

This empirical generalization about the interpretive nature of ClRD, however, is not exceptionless. It has indeed been observed that ClRD may sometimes introduce a discourse-new referent, although this referent is presented by the speaker as shared knowledge (Benincà, 1988; Ferrari, 1999; Lambrecht, 1994). This occurs most typically in yes/no-questions, where the givenness requirement for ClRD appears to be weakened (Benincà, 1988; Crocco, 2013; Sauzet, 1989), allowing the construction to be employed even in out-of-the-blue contexts:


These sentences exemplify cases in which the right-dislocated constituent need not be given in the context, but can be simply inferred from the situation.

ClRD topics too form independent intonational phrases (see Feldhausen, 2010, for Catalan, Frascarelli, 2000, for Italian, Zubizarreta, 1998, for Spanish, among others). It has also been observed that they lack any degree of intonational prominence and are realized with a low and flat pitch contour (Astruc, 2004). This characteristic prosodic contour of ClRD topics has been related to their pragmatic properties: Vallduví (1992), for example, claims that in Catalan CLDR constituents are placed outside the intonational domain relevant for the assignment of phrasal stress. Bocci and Avesani (2011) and Bocci (2013) propose, instead, that their typical low and flat contour is determined by the presence of a preceding focal constituent, as an instance of postfocal pitch compression.6

3. Topic-Comment in Romance: Debate and Controversies

The traditional Topic-Comment articulation displays a partial overlapping with the structuring of the sentence into (logical) subject or subject of predication and predicate (Krifka, 2007; Kuroda, 1972; Sasse, 1987). If defined in terms of aboutness, the notion of topic can be described with file card metaphor (Reinhart, 1982): the topic corresponds to the heading of a new file card and the comment adds information about this new card into the common ground shared by the interlocutors. What is then the relationship between topic and subject? Indeed, the logical subject of the predication is also generally defined in terms of aboutness. Different positions have been assumed with respect to this issue in Romance, with contrasting consequences for the supposed syntactic status of topics and subjects.

3.1. Topics and Preverbal Subjects

According to some theories, the subject in initial position automatically takes over the role of topic. Under this view, when the subject is part of the comment (or focus), it must appear postverbally, at least in null-subject languages (see Cruschina, “Focus and Focus Structures in the Romance languages, forthcoming”). Sentences without an initial topic constituent are the so-called thetic sentences, and are opposed to categorical sentences which instead do feature a sentence-initial topic. The idea that preverbal subjects are inherently topical has been converted in the syntactic assumption that all preverbal subjects in null-subject Romance languages sit in a high, topic-related position of the clausal, either a multifunctional or a dedicated position in the preverbal field. This view, however, has been strongly opposed by many scholars, who show that not all preverbal subjects can be analyzed as topics (see Alexiadou & Anagnostopoulou, 1998; Barbosa, 1995; Costa, 2004; Giurgea, 2017; Ordóñez & Treviño, 1999; Rizzi, 2005, 2018; Sheehan. 2016, and references therein).7 For example, negative quantifiers resist topicalization under ClLD (Rizzi, 1997), but can appear in a preverbal position as subjects:


An established tradition of studies acknowledges the similarities and possible overlapping between the two notions of topic and subject, but keep them apart, not only syntactically but also interpretively. Both topic and subject have an information-structure function, in that they update, structure, and organize information. They nonetheless belong to two distinct levels of information structure: topic is contextually determined and as such is part of the Topic-Comment articulation, whereas subject must be taken as a semantic-logical notion, which should be defined independently from contextual properties. Lambrecht (1994) posits an information-structure definition of topic, arguing that the categorical or thetic character of the sentence is a matter of pragmatics and must thus be dissociated from its syntactic and logical properties. In this sense, “even though this topic definition [as aboutness topic] is derived from the traditional definition of ‘subject’, the two notions ‘topic’ and ‘subject’ cannot be conflated. Topics are not necessarily grammatical subjects, and grammatical subjects are not necessarily topics” (Lambrecht, 1994, p. 118).8

Along the same lines, Rizzi (2005, 2018) argues that, on the one hand, subjects share with topics the aboutness property, namely, their being ‘what the sentence is about’, which in SVO languages guarantees a prominent—typically, initial—position within the sentence. On the other hand, topics, but not subjects, are characterized by a connection to the previous discourse, which he defines in terms of D(iscourse)-linking:


Rizzi’s proposal relies on Cardinaletti’s (1997, 2004) syntactic distinction of a dedicated position for (strong) subjects of predication from the lower positions designed for the exclusively grammatical (nominal) subjects of the sentence such as weak and null pronouns. In general, the aboutness argument tends to be associated with given information, so that the aboutness subject of a sentence often coincides with the aboutness topic from a pragmatic perspective. Postverbal clause-internal subjects, by contrast, do not (see also Bentley & Cruschina, 2018; Bianchi & Chesi, 2014). The frequent correlation between the aboutness argument and givenness, however, should not figure in the definition of subject.

No ambiguity between topic and subject status exists when a certain element intervenes between the preverbal grammatical subject and the verb, thus ruling out the possibility the sentence-initial constituent may sit in the subject canonical position. This happens when the subject precedes a wh-element (16a), and when the subject is extracted from an embedded clause (16b):


Even if this has been a matter of dispute, (colloquial) French seems to distinguish overtly between topical and non-topical preverbal subjects. According to De Cat (2007: 22), in colloquial French “a heavy (i.e., non-weak) element expressing the subject is interpreted as a topic only if it is resumed by a subject clitic.” So, if the context imposes a non-topical interpretation of the subject, as in the answer to a what-happened type of question, clitic resumption of the subject proves pragmatically infelicitous, as shown in (17):


Subject clitics are also widespread in northern Italian dialects. In these varieties, however, they do not uniquely identify topicalization or dislocation, but cover a range of functions from agreement morphemes to pragmatic markers (see Manzini & Savoia, 2005; Poletto, 2000, for an overview).

3.2. Topics and ‘Oblique’ Subjects

The controversial distinction between aboutness topics and subject of predication does not only concern grammatical (nominative) subjects but also oblique subjects (18) and sentence-initial locative and temporal expressions (19), which may be analyzed either as logical subjects of predication or as aboutness topics when they occur in preverbal position (Cardinaletti, 1997, 2004; Corr, 2016; Fernández-Soriano, 1999; Lahousse, 2007, 2011; Leonetti, 2017, p. 911; Pinto, 1997; Sheehan, 2010; Teixeira, 2016).



These have been considered cases of the topicalization construction, in which a non-subject constituent is topicalized to the sentence-initial position normally occupied by the subject. However, if a distinction between aboutness topic and subject of predication is maintained, the topical status of these non-nominative subjects turns out not to be a necessary condition: from a semantic-logical perspective, they serve the function of subject of predication and may or not be additionally topic depending on the contextual properties of the sentence. Syntactically, the subject status of non-nominative constituents in sentence-initial position presupposes a syntactic separation between the subject-of-predication and the grammatical function. It has indeed been claimed that an element occurring in subject position does not necessarily bear nominative case, nor is it inevitably involved in agreement operations.

The experiencer arguments of psycho-verbs (18) are commonly believed to occur in the canonical subject position. Less unanimous is the view that the sentence-initial locative and temporal expressions (19) are also to be analyzed as subjects. Some authors distinguish between locatives with impersonal, stative, or eventive verbs from the locative inversion that is common with motion verbs. According to Fernández-Soriano (1999), only the former behave as real subjects and occur in preverbal position in the unmarked word order, while the latter result from the anteposition of a VP-internal argument to sentence-initial subject position, which is pragmatically marked and thus infelicitous in answers to a what-happened question. Compare (20) with (21):



Other scholars have claimed that the sentence-initial locative and temporal expressions in (18) are to be analyzed as topics, in particular stage topics in the sense of Erteschik-Shir (1997), which is a type of topic that defines a spatial and/or temporal location (Giurgea, 2017; Giurgea & Remberger, 2012a, 2012b; Lahousse, 2007, 2011; Teixeira, 2016). This analysis draws on a similar account of thetic sentences and on the question of whether thetic sentences with a postverbal grammatical subject lack an aboutness argument altogether, be it a subject of predication or a topic.

Building upon Benincà (1988), several scholars have claimed that, in the absence of an overt locative or temporal phrase, broad-focus subject inversion in null-subject Romance languages requires a null locative argument in preverbal position, thus being comparable to locative inversion (Corr, 2016; Pinto, 1997; Sheehan, 2006, 2010, 2016; Tortora, 1997, 2001). Consider the examples in (22) and (23), which have to be interpreted as broad-focus thetic statements, making new announcements:



According to Erteschik-Shir (1997), stage topics can be overt, as in (19), or covert, as in thetic sentences—at least with certain predicates. It is indeed a commonly held view that thetic sentences are not topic-less, but rather have a null argument as topic, which can be intuitively be described as a location or as a situation. For Romance, it has then been proposed that thetic sentences with VS are licensed by a null stage topic (Giurgea, 2017; Giurgea & Remberger, 2012a, 2012b; Teixeira, 2016). Under this view, the only difference between sentences in (19) and those in (22)(23) lies in the overt vs covert realization of the stage topic.

Alternative proposals, however, separate the aboutness requirement of thetic sentences from the notion of topic, maintaining that in these sentences with subject inversion either an event argument or a situational argument functions as subject of predication. Bentley & Cruschina (2018), in particular, observe that thetic subject inversion requires the eventuality denoted by the predicate to be bounded. This happens whenever a specific final goal (a location or a state) is part of the argument structure of the verb, but also when such a goal is entailed or inferred via an implicature. Only certain predicates with particular lexical-semantic properties are compatible with the bounded reading provided by the goal and thus admit thetic subject inversion:


The verb svuotarsi ‘become empty’ in (23a) allows the implicature that a maximum value (e.g., to become completely empty) has been reached as a final goal state. The same implicature, by contrast, does not arise with annoiarsi ‘to become bored’. These structures display no Topic-Comment oppositions, insofar as they neither exhibit nor presuppose a topic. In this account, therefore, the either entailed or inferred goal argument is not given and does not exhibit any connection with the previous discourse, but is rather introduced with the utterance itself. It is thus defined as the subject of predication. Even if the distinction between stage topic and subject of predication may appear subtle and may depend on the perspective adopted, it thus emerges that the two notions are not fully synonymous.

4. Topicalization in Medieval Romance and Potential Residues

Several topicalization constructions were already present in medieval Romance. In particular, ClLD, which is more easily identifiable due to clitic resumption (cf. (25)(26)), is relatively widespread since the very first attestations in written form (Benincà, 2006; Ledgeway, 2012, p. 159–160; Salvi, 2004, 2005, 2011):



Occurrences of ClLD can be traced back to late Latin, or even to Classical Latin, although in the latter the dislocated topic was resumed by a strong pronoun (see Salvi, 2004, 2005, 2011).

The frequency of topicalization has been directly related to a general syntactic property of medieval Romance. There is considerable—albeit not absolute—consensus that the syntax of medieval Romance was characterized by a V2 constraint as a transitional phase between the predominant SOV order of Classical Latin and the SVO order of modern Romance. The V2 status of medieval Romance is particularly well attested and widely supported by statistical studies,9 but has also been disputed and denied, especially for old Ibero-Romance.10 It has also been suggested that the V2 syntax of medieval Romance was already present in late Latin (Ledgeway, 2012, 2017; Spevak, 2005) and finds its precursor in the V-initial orders of Classical Latin, which have been examined as the result of verb-fronting to a left-peripheral position due to syntactic or pragmatic reasons (Devine & Stephens, 2006; Salvi, 2004). According to Salvi (2004: 96f., 107–111), only from the second century ad does this marked process of verb-fronting become generalized in root clauses, and the fronted verb is increasingly more often preceded by a focal or topical constituent, thus signaling the development of a fully fledged V2-system.

The precise nature of the fronted constituent, however, is not always unambiguous. One of the characteristic features of the preverbal position in medieval Romance V2 systems is its unrestricted nature and its ability to host a contrastive or unmarked (information) focus, an aboutness or a given topic. In the absence of a resumptive element, it might indeed prove difficult to establish whether the fronted constituent is a topic or a focus (see, e.g., Salvesen, 2013). The following examples are reported in Benincà (2006):




Whether we are dealing with a focalization or topicalization construction is generally decided on the basis of the referential distinction between new and old information and of other interpretive cues inferable from the surrounding text, or else, from the syntactic category of the fronted constituent (see, e.g., Cruschina, 2011; Vanelli, 1999; see Lombardi Vallauri, 2009, for a different approach to focalization). In the examples (26)(29) involving direct objects, the lack of a resumptive pronoun would support the non-topical nature of the fronted object. At the same time, however, no clear articulation of the sentence into a Focus-Background structure emerges.

Even if topicalization constructions are frequently attested in all medieval Romance varieties, this does not constitute per se direct evidence for the V2 syntactic character of medieval Romance, given that these constructions independently exist in languages with no V2 constraint, including modern Romance. In this sense, other concomitant properties constitute more relevant pieces of evidence for the V2 nature of the medieval Romance, including subject inversion, whenever a constituent other than the subject is fronted and the subject is overtly realized ((27)(29)), and enclisis to the finite verb ((30)(31)), which is generally used as a diagnostics for V2 produced by verb movement over the weak pronoun (Benincà, 2006; Ledgeway, 2012):11



Irrespective of the controversies surrounding the V2 syntactic character of medieval Romance and its precise definition, the unrestricted nature of the preverbal position of the earlier stages certainly represents an important difference with respect to modern Romance. V2 syntax and enclisis have survived in some modern Romance varieties, though apparently independently from one another: V2 has been preserved in some Romansh dialects, presumably under the influence of German (Haiman & Benincà, 1992), while enclisis survives in western peninsular Ibero-Romance (for its distribution and restrictions, see Barbosa, 1996, Campos, 1989; Fernández-Rubiera, 2009; Raposo, 2000; Raposo & Uriagereka, 2005; Martins, 1994, 2005; Uriagereka, 1995, among others).

In addition to these language-specific legacies, other more general syntactic configurations have been viewed as residues of medieval Romance V2. In wh-questions, the fronting of the wh-phrases in modern Romance seems to occur at the same time as verb raising, resulting in strict adjacency between the two elements (Rizzi, 1996). Verb raising to the complementizer system has also been advocated as the key explanation for the different word orders and ordering restrictions that characterize certain concessive and conditional clauses in a number of Romance varieties (Munaro, 2010; Rizzi, 1982).

Medieval French differs considerable from modern French with respect to subject inversion in declarative root clauses. While in medieval French subject inversion is a frequent and relatively unrestricted phenomenon, in Modern French, by contrast, it is subject to strong restrictions, especially when compared to the null-subject Romance languages both in contexts of broad-focus subject inversion and with narrow focalization of the postverbal subject (cf. the subsection “Topics and ‘Oblique’ Subjects”; see also Cruschina, “Focus and Focus Structures in the Romance languages, forthcoming”). In contemporary French, subject inversion is limited to unaccusative verbs, and the expletive pronoun il ‘it’, a temporal/locative expression, or a sentence-initial adverb such as peut-être ‘maybe’ or sans doute ‘doubtless’ must appear at the beginning of the sentence (cf. also (19b)):12


Given that subject inversion in modern French is primarily confined to the written and literary language, this difference has been attributed to the V2 property of medieval French, which is lost in modern French.13 In this sense, subject-inversion structures “may be regarded as learnt vestiges of an older language stage” (Kaiser & Zimmermann, 2011, p. 377).

Resumptive (or Anaphoric) Preposing is another type of construction which, due to its restriction to a specific style and register, and to its unclear status between focalization and topicalization, has been considered an instance of potential residue of V2 in modern Romance:



On the one hand, Resumptive Preposing resembles focalization, in that the fronted constituent is incompatible with clitic resumption, triggers subject inversion, and cannot cooccur with any other instance of wh- or focus-movement. On the other, this construction mostly involves fronted definite noun phrases which anaphorically resume an identical or inferentially linked phrase in the immediately preceding discourse. Demonstratives or lexical items meaning ‘same’ typically help this anaphoric function (Benincà, 1988; Benincà & Poletto, 2004; Cardinaletti, 2009; Cinque, 1990; Leonetti & Escandell Vidal, 2009). In this sense, the fronted constituent never conveys new information, does not lead to clear Focus-Background partition of the sentence, and rather shows the interpretive properties typical of given topics.


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  • 1. Given topics are also called referential or familiar topics in the literature on Romance (Bianchi & Frascarelli, 2010; Cruschina, 2012; Frascarelli & Hinterhölzl, 2007). Vallduví (1992) adopts the terms link and tail to cover the same distinction between ATs and GTs, respectively (see also Brunetti, 2009a).

  • 2. The definition of topicalization as a topic-marking mechanism adopted here is admittedly broader than in the specialist research on Germanic languages, where it is generally conceived of as the syntactic displacement of (non-subject) constituents to the sentence-initial position with no resumptive elements (see Pekarek Doehler, De Stefani, & Horlacher, 2015, on French). Such a stricter definition would automatically set topicalization apart from HT(LD) and ClLD, but not necessarily from focalization (see Prince, 1984; 1998). Subsuming dislocation under the cover term of topicalization may thus seem problematic, but, as we will see in this chapter, in Romance the distinction between topicalization and other displacement or dislocation structures is not always clear-cut, while topicalization is neatly different from focalization. Indeed, ClLD and in particular Clitic Right Dislocation (ClRD) fulfill functions other than topic marking (see, e.g., Ashby, 1988), but they have nevertheless been included in the discussion both for sake of comparison and because they can be used to mark specific types of topic.

  • 3. In fact, in Romanian the use of clitics does not correlate with topicalization, but with the specificity of the dislocated phrase, independently of whether it is a topic, a focus or a wh-element. The clitic is obligatory with definites or with specific indefinites (Dobrovie-Sorin, 1990, 1994). The clitic co-occur with the corresponding constituent even when it is not displaced, but clause-internal. This phenomenon is known as clitic doubling, and is found to varying extents in Spanish, although it is very limited with direct objects (e.g., in Rio de la Plata Spanish). Clitic doubling is general considered absent in the other Romance languages, but it is actually possible with personal pronouns and/or with dative arguments in many varieties (Anagnostopoulou, 2006; Benincà, 1988, 2001; Jaeggli, 1986; Kayne, 2000, chap. 9; Torrego 1998).

  • 4. ATs and GTs may in fact be viewed as two contextual variants of the grammatical entity. Only when more topics are present at the beginning of the sentence does the distinction become relevant, insofar as only one topic can be interpreted as AT. However, it has been observed that if we change the order of the sentence-initial topics, it is difficult to unambiguously identify the AT of the sentence since it tends to coincides with the first topic (see Cruschina, 2012; López, 2009). On further differences between aboutness topics and dislocates, see López (2009).

  • 5. While Frascarelli and Hinterhölzl (2007) argue that there can be only one AT or one CT per sentence, whereas GTs can be iterated, López (2009) claims that all left-dislocated phrases are in fact contrastive (see also Arregi, 2003, and Brunetti, 2009a, 2009b). López additionally shows that the order of multiple topics can be changed without altering their interpretation: in this sense, it becomes difficult to identify the AT of the sentence, which might simply coincide with the first dislocated constituent. These observations cast doubt on the cartographic idea that there are fixed syntactic positions for every different interpretation of the topic constituent.

  • 6. See also Poletto and Bocci (2016).

  • 7. For a prosodic perspective on this issue, see Feldhausen (2014) and references therein.

  • 8. Lambrecht refers here to grammatical subjects, which are of course to be kept separate from the notion of subject of predication defined on a logical-sematic level. See the subsection “Topics and ‘Oblique’ Subjects.”

  • 9. See Benincà (2006), Ledgeway (2012), Poletto (2014), Wolfe (2018), and references therein.

  • 10. See Kaiser (2002), Martins (1994, 2001), Rinke (2009), Sitaridou (2012), Sornicola (2000).

  • 11. On enclisis with V1 structures and in the absence of a fronted focus constituent, see Benincà (2006).

  • 12. Many other factors act as constraints on subject inversion in French, including register (cf., e.g., the so-called stylistic inversion) and sentence type (interrogative inversion or inversion in subjunctive clauses). For more details on subject inversion in French, see Lahousse (2003, 2007, 2011), Marandin (2001, 2011), and references therein.

  • 13. See Rinke and Meisel (2009) and Kaiser and Zimmermann (2011) for alternative accounts.