Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: topic/focus or theme/rheme

From:Raymond A. Brown <raybrown@...>
Date:Thursday, February 25, 1999, 6:48
At 9:46 pm -0500 24/2/99, Tim Smith wrote:
>At 07:51 PM 2/23/99 +0000, Raymond A. Brown wrote:
>>I forgot to add that Fox does add a rider to the effect that the theme/ >>rheme (his terms, i.e. topic/ comment) interpretation is not always >>appropriate. The examples he gives are: >>(i) Jetzt fahren wir los - now we're off. >>(ii) Da kommt er schon. - there he is comming sure enough. >>(iii) Es regnet wieder. - it's raining again. >> >>(My translations - some adverbs like 'schon' are very idiomatic.) >> >>Fox concedes that "jetzt" in the first sentence could arguably be >>considered the topic in that refers to 'what is happening now'. But in >>(ii) and (iii) it is difficult to see how 'da' and, still less, 'es' can be >>topics. > >I'd say (speaking totally off the top of my head) that these sentences don't >really have topics (except maybe (i)); they're all new information. I think >this kind of sentence is called "presentational". But the German syntax >requires that there be _something_ in the topic position, to maintain the >mandatory verb-second order. So "jetzt", "da", and "es" in these examples >are "dummy" topics that function primarily as place-holders.
Yep - I think that must be it. 'Es' in 'es regnet', like 'it' in 'it is raining', is often termed a "dummy subject" or "subject place-holder" because in both modern German & English a finite verb must have _some_ subject. The German requires that if the verb + subject are inverted, as in (ii), then we musy have a dummy topic such as 'da'. Actually modern is, I think, much the same. In proverbial statements like "cometh the hour, cometh the man" we can have simply V+S. But we'd never say, e.g. *'Comes the rain' - we'd always say something like "Here comes the rain", "There goes my only chance!" etc. where 'here', 'there' etc function, it seems to me, much like "da" in the German sentence (ii) above. [snip]
>> > >Thanks! This is very interesting and enlightening.
Not at all - indeed, you deserve thanks for starting this thread which has both enlightened me and got me thinking :) And at 9:46 pm -0500 24/2/99, Tim Smith also wrote: [snip]
>So it would appear that what happened in Breton and Gascon is that a cleft >structure developed for focus marking and then somehow lost its focusing >function while retaining its form. (Whereas in spoken Welsh it lost its >form but retained its function!)
I think that (with the snipped bits) is a pretty fair summary of what seems to have happened. Ray.