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Re: THEORY: Information Structure; Topic/Comment, Focus/Background, Given/New.

From:Chris Bates <chris.maths_student@...>
Date:Wednesday, November 23, 2005, 8:16
> Likewise, if the sentence is "...X...Y...Z..."; it may be that > "...X..." is the most Given information; "...Z..." is the Newest > information; and "...Y..." is transitional between them.
There's a language called Lisu spoken somewhere in South Eastern Asia which allows you to use its topic marker with more than one argument. If you want you can designate every single argument except the verb as the topic (forcing the verb to be the focus) or you can mark the entire clause except one argument as the topic (although to do that you need some kind of cleft construction). Unfortunately I don't have the book where I read most of the information about Lisu from anymore, but I do have a pdf somewhere with more info... here are some examples: Multiple Topics: asa nya phwu nya ale la g@a asa top. money top. ale to give-decl. Asa *gave* the money to *ale* Whole Clause except one argument is topic: asa la d@a ma nya ale asa to hit-decl. one top. ale the one who hit asa is *ale* (I can't copy and paste the exact text for some reason... perhaps because it has a lot of accents etc on it) The language is more topic oriented than anything, with somewhat minimal marking of grammatical role (it's not compulsory to mark the difference between actor and patient, although I believe it's possible to do so). I believe, although I'm not sure, that if there are multiple topics then the first is taken to be the most topical and so on... certainly, topic and comment are split with word order, with topical nouns or whatever coming first and the nouns in the comment always occuring last (there may be more than one focused noun in the comment by the way), immediately before the verb. (If you want me to send you the pdf I can do, but I can't find the place on the internet I downloaded it from now...) On a related matter to topics, you described various grammatical systems involved with marking the topic. I'd like to suggest (at least one) one more: the proximate vs obviate distinction in many american languages. Although I'm not an expert and don't speak any language which consistently makes this distinction (ie, I've just seen lots of examples and read about it in linguistics books) it seems to me that the proximate functions very much like a discourse topic for many languages that have it. The difference is that for those languages that make a proximate vs obviate distinction the distinction has been integrated into the systems of noun marking and verbal agreement, and more constraints are put on what can be proximate than what can be topic (possessors are perfectly good topics for instance, but not, in some languages, good proximate arguments). But still, the core function of proximate marking in many languages that have it seems to be to mark and keep track of the discourse topic. There's also the matter of the way languages like English treat the subject. The subject has topicality as a very strong part of its definition, and we frequently use voice to maintain subject (and thus topic) continuity between clauses. For instance: I was taken to the cinema by some friends and given a lift home afterwards. ?I was taken to the cinema by some friends and they gave me a lift home afterwards. For me, the second sentence sounds a lot less natural than the first, which has subject continuity. Frequently languages which have integrated topics into the argument structure of verbs as subjects use voice to maintain subject continuity. This even happens in syntactically ergative languages like Dyirbal where the topical role (the absolutive) is very different from what we consider a subject... frequent use of the anti-passive is made to keep continuity of reference if possible with the abs argument. So I think that there's a continuum with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean (which mark topic separately) at one end, language with proximate obviate systems (which restrict slightly the role of topic and integrate it into verbal marking etc) in the middle, and languages like English (which have merged topic marking with role marking, usually into subject) at the other end.