Pragmatics: Topic and Focus October 3, 2007

11-721 Grammars and Lexicons Based on slides by Alicia Tribble

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A Joke based on topic and focus
‡ Gundel and Fretheim, page 175, citing Chao (1968) ± A. We are now passing the oldest winery in the region. ± B. Why? ‡ What we are passing now is the oldest winery in the region. ‡ What we are doing now is passing the oldest winery in the region. ‡ Does this joke work in Chinese?
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Outline for Today
‡ Topic and focus in English ‡ Differences between word order in English and Russian and Hungarian ‡ Differences between English and Chinese topiccomment sentences

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This fact becomes given information. Who? Who saw Bill? new old/given 4 . we understand that someone saw Bill. a shared assumption between the speaker and hearer. The question asks for a piece of new information.Pragmatic Roles ³The flow of given and new information´ When we hear the sentence Who saw Bill?.

John saw Bill/him. ± Stress on ³Bill´ perceiver: John/he perceived: who/Bill (old) (new) ‡ Intonation encodes new information. 5 . ± Stress on ³John´ perceiver: who/John (new) perceived: Bill/him (old) ‡ A. Who did John see? ‡ B. John/he saw Bill. Who saw Bill? ‡ B.How to express new information in English ‡ A.

± Stress on ³Bill´ ‡ A. page 56) ‡ A. ± Stress on ³Bill/him´ ‡ A. ± Stress on ³John´ . Who did John see? ‡ B. #John/he saw Bill. ± Stress on ³John´ perceiver: who/John (new) perceived: Bill/him (old) perceiver: who/John (new) perceived: Bill/him (old) perceiver: John/he perceived: who/Bill perceiver: John/he perceived: who/Bill (old) (new) (old) (new) 6 ‡ A.How to mess up the encoding of new information (Comrie. Who saw Bill? ‡ B. John saw Bill/him. John/he saw Bill. Who saw Bill? ‡ B. #John saw Bill/him. Who did John see? ‡ B.

Focus Using Cleft Constructions (Kroeger) ‡ English can express new information with a cleft sentence: It's x that .. 7 . ± Contrastive focus implies that the focused item is being chosen from a delimited set It's John that saw Bill (. It was Mary that John gave the flowers to (. not Susan).. not the President). It is the Secretary who will visit us (. ‡ The cleft sentence may take on a reading of contrastive focus.not Joe).

cut here 2.Why is it called a cleft? ‡ ³Cleft´ is the past participle of ³cleave´. add ³it¶s´ and ³who/that´ It¶s John that saw Bill. 1. 8 . to cut. To cleave off a subject: John saw Bill.

cut here 2. 9 . add ³it¶s´ and ³who/that´ It¶s Bill that John saw. John saw Bill.Why is it called a cleft? To cleave off a non-subject. move the piece you cut off 3. 1.

10 . (object is cleft) ‡ Perceiver: John ‡ Perceived: Bill ‡ The cleft word order is not encoding semantic roles or grammatical relations.Meaning of clefts ‡ Note that these mean the same thing in the sense that the noun phrases have the same semantic roles: ± John saw Bill. ± It¶s John who saw Bill. (subject is cleft) ± It¶s Bill who John saw. It is encoding new information.

± ³John´ is clefted. Who did John see? perceiver: John/he ‡ B. (old) (new) 11 . perceived: who/Bill ± ³Bill´ is clefted. perceived: Bill/him (old) ‡ A.How to express new information in English ‡ A. ‡ Clefting encodes new information. It¶s John that/who saw Bill/him. Who saw Bill? perceiver: who/John (new) ‡ B. It¶s Bill that/who saw John.

Who saw Bill? perceiver: who/John (new) ‡ B. perceived: who/Bill . Who did John see? perceiver: John/he ‡ B. #It¶s John who saw Bill. It¶s Bill who John saw. perceived: Bill/him (old) ‡ A.How to mess up the encoding of new information (Comrie. Who did John see? ‡ B. Who saw Bill? perceiver: who/John (new) ‡ B. perceived: Bill/him (old) ‡ A. #It¶s Bill who John saw. It¶s John who saw Bill/him. perceiver: John/he perceived: who/Bill (old) (new) (old) (new) 12 ‡ A. page 56) ‡ A.

What I like for breakfast is cold pizza and coke.Focus Using Pseudo-clefts ‡ Pseudo-clefts also mark contrastive focus: what x-does is y What John gave to Mary was a bunch of flowers. ‡ Q: Where is the presupposition (old information) in each of these sentences? 13 .

Pseudo-cleft ‡ What did John give to Mary? ‡ What John gave to Mary was a bunch of flowers. ‡ #(The person) who John gave flowers to was Mary. 14 .

(Kroeger) 15 . A topic can be new.Topic-Comment ‡ These constructions separate ³what the sentence is about´ (topic) from a statement that should be interpreted in that domain (comment). Topic and focus are mutually exclusive. but it still functions as background knowledge for interpretation of the comment. ‡ Used when the speaker wants to emphasize this contrast. they are encoded differently.

Your sister I can¶t stand [ ]. leaving a gap in the comment: This ice cream I like [ ].Extracted Topic ‡ A construction used to express contrastive topic ‡ Topic is fronted. ‡ Implies that the topic is chosen from a set (Your mother is all right. but) your sister I can¶t stand [ ]. 16 .

the topic phrase is syntactically linked to the comment by taking the grammatical relation of the gap.Syntax of Extracted Topics In this construction. OBJ 17 . OBJ Your sister I can¶t stand [OBJ]. This ice cream I like [OBJ].

Topic Using Left-Dislocation ‡ Used to change topics ‡ Topic provides antecedent for a pronoun in the comment (resumptive pronoun): My friend John. 18 . his wife won $1 million. This man I know. a snake bit him on the hand and he lost three fingers.

.. a python swallowed his dog. ± As for John. the traffic is unbelievable. I¶ll be sailing the Caribbean. ± As for Manila. ± As for me.External Topic ‡ Signals a return to a previously mentioned topic ‡ Bears little or no syntactic link to the comment. only a semantic link: As for x . 19 .

20 . ‡ *A window. ‡ The window.Topic and ³givenness´ ‡ A topic cannot be indefinite. it¶s still open. It has to be something the hearer is familiar with. it¶s still open.

g. Theme) Pragmatic Roles (Topic and Focus) Languages use building blocks in different ways to encode content 21 . verb agrees with subject) Intonation ‡ Information Content / Functions of NPs Grammatical relations (SUBJ. OBJ.Layers of Structure ‡ Building Blocks / Coding Mechanisms: Case marking Word order (and phrase structure) Agreement (e.. OBL) Semantic or Thematic Roles (Agent. Patient.

Cross-Linguistic Variation Case Marking Agreement Russian Grammatical Relations English Italian Semantic Roles Hungarian Basic Word Order Marked Word Order Pragmatic Roles English 22 .

Russian word order seems free by comparison: Tanja ubila Ma u. µTanja killed Masha.¶ Tanja Ma u ubila. µTanja killed Masha.¶ Ma u ubila Tanja. p78) ‡ English word order codes grammatical relations.¶ 23 .Focus in Russian (Comrie. µTanja killed Masha.

µTanja killed Masha.¶ Ma u ubila Tanja. p78) ‡ Although GR¶s are the same for all. Pragmatic Roles are different. µTanja killed Masha.Focus in Russian (Comrie.¶ ‡ Russian basic word order places topic at the beginning of the sentence and focus at the end. µTanja killed Masha. 24 .¶ Tanja Ma u ubila. Tanja ubila Ma u.

Zoli Vili saw Vili saw Zoli. (Comrie. Zoli-t Vili l´atta. page 57) a. Ki l´atta Zoli-t? who saw Zoli Who saw Zoli? b. Zoli-t ki l´atta? Zoli who saw Who saw Zoli? c. Vili saw Zoli Vili saw Zoli d. Since question words are asking for new information.Hungarian ‡ The new information immediately precedes the verb. Perceiver: Vili/who (new) Perceived: Zoli (old) 25 . they also immediately precede the verb. Vili l´atta Zoli-t.

d. Zoli Vili saw Zoli Zoli saw Vili Perceiver: Zoli (old) Perceived: Vili/who (new) 26 . Ki-t l´atta Zoli? who saw Zoli Who did Zoli see? b. Zoli Vili-t l´atta.Hungarian a. Zoli ki-t l´atta? Zoli who saw Who did Zoli see? c. Zoli Vili saw Zoli saw Vili. Vili-t l´atta.

Cross-Linguistic Variation Case Marking Agreement Russian Grammatical Relations English Italian Semantic Roles Hungarian Basic Word Order Marked Word Order Pragmatic Roles English 27 .

Cross-Linguistic Variation Case Marking Agreement Russian Grammatical Relations English Italian Semantic Roles Hungarian Basic Word Order Russian English Pragmatic Roles Marked Word Order 28 .

including English 29 . focus) These are features of Topic shared among many languages.Topic in Mandarin ‡ Coded using word order: topic is fronted ‡ Topic can serve as antecedent for a resumptive pronoun ‡ Topic Establishes domain for the comment ‡ Topic is incompatible with question words (i.e.

this-CLASS matter Li Mr. p143) ‡ Allowed in Mandarin but not in most other languages a L xi nsheng zuóti n w kànjiàn le.¶ b zhè-jiàn shì L xi nsheng w gàosu guo. Li Mr. I inform PAST 30 µThis matter. Mr. I have told (him) about. Li. Li.Multiple Topics (Kroeger.¶ . yesterday I see PERF µMr. yesterday I saw (him).

¶ b Júzi w bu ch le. This novel Zhangsan read finish PERF µThis novel Zhangsan has finished reading.¶ 31 .¶ or: µThe orange I will not eat. orange I not eat PERF µOranges I don¶t eat.Topicalized Objects ‡ Direct objects can be topicalized by fronting them. leaving a gap in the comment: a Zhè-b n xi oshu Zh ngs n kàn wán le.

so I don¶t like (it). su yi w bu x hu n [ ].¶ b Nà kuài tián dàozi zh ngde h n dà. p26) ‡ Evidence that Mandarin is Topic-Prominent. not Subject-Prominent. the leaves are big. su yi that piece land rice grow very big so h n zhíqián. rice grows very big.Topic-Controlled Coreference (Li. so (it ± the land) is very 32 valuable. very valuable µThat piece of land. that tree leaves big so I not like µThat tree.¶ . a Nà ke shù yèzi dà.

Difference between Chinese and English * Nei chang huo xiaofangdui that class fire fire brigade laide zao. came early so very tired That fire. so very tired 33 . suoyi hen lei. the fire brigade came early.

It¶s this lethal national intertia in the face of the most devastating epidemic of the late 20th century that finally prompted one congressman to strike out on his own. cited in Hedberg 1990) 34 . (Minneapolis Star and Tribune. page 186 ± The federal government is dealing with AIDS as if the virus was a problem that didn¶t travel along interstate highways and was none of its business.Note: clefts can be used for old information too ‡ Gundel and Fretheim.

page 183 ± Which of these clothes should we give to the Salvation Army? ± That COAT you¶re wearing.Note: Topicalization construction used for information focus (new information) ‡ Gundel and Fretheim. I think we can give away. 35 .

Reinhart (1981) argues that topics only have to be referential. they augured under the grave where his wife was buried. ‡ The indefinite is not familiar to the hearer.Topicalized specific indefinite ‡ Gundel and Fretheim. citing Prince (1985): ± An old preacher down there. not familiar. 36 . page 181.

page 180 ‡ Tomlin (1995). 37 . and therefore not the backward-looking center (continuing topic of conversation). wa can mark noun phrases that are referentially new.Topic (opposite of comment) is not the same as backward-looking center ‡ Gundel and Fretheim.

not topic.Topic and Focus: telling the difference WH-questions bear focus. The answers bear focus.´ ³Who did Bill see?´ ³Mary Bill saw. ³Who did Bill see?´ ³It¶s Mary that Bill saw. as well.´ contrastive focus contrastive topic 38 .

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