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Focus, interrogatives

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Monday, May 31, 1999, 22:17
Raymond A. Brown wrote:

Good stuff that you went to trouble to write printed out and
here snipped... This has been explained countless times, it
seems (well maybe twice) since I've been on line, and I'm
sure Matt is shaking his head at me for asking for it again.

> 'Focus' is that part of the comment which focuses our attention on new info > not presupposed by either speaker. If the reply to "What did you give John > for his birthday?" was: > > For his birthday I gave him a book. > 'For his birthday' is the 'topic' - it's what we're talking about. > 'I gave him a book' is the 'comment'. > 'a book' is the focus.
My middle-aged over-stuffed brain will NEVER remember this, but this seems like a good mantra to paste up somewhere.
> Of course when answering a question we usually just give the focus and > leave the rest of the sentence 'understood' (i.e. presupposed). But it's > interesting to contrast the different way in which German & Welsh would > word a complete sentence reply to "What has she given him for his birthday?" > > Was hat sie ihm zum Geburtstag geschenkt? > Zum Geburtstag hat sie ihm ein Buch geschenkt. > [For (his) birthday has she him a book given] > > Beth mae hi wedi rhoi iddo fe i'w ben-blwydd? > Llyfr mae hi wedi rhoi iddo fe i'w ben-blwydd. > [A book is she after giving to him for his birthday] > > German fronts the topic 'Zum Geburstag' whereas Welsh fronts the focus > 'Llyfr'.
Most enlightening! In fact, I'm struggling to fit this into Teonaht. One thing that needs developing in T. is where the interrogatives will go in its sentence order given its peculiar syntax. You'd think I'd've figured this out by now, but I haven't: Either: Tolo~ "birthday" lo~ htyme eddam kwe'r tobre uarly vergo? For his " his sister to him what INT thing has she given? This puts the interrogative last, treating it like a declarative sentence (which is how most sentences get treated, only with a "hdar" stuck in ('r) before the verb to make it a question; Or: Kwe'r tobre na vergouar lo~ htyme eddam tolo~ "birthday"? What INT thing is (that) give has his sister to him for his bday? The second puts the interrogative first, and makes the rest of the sentence a subordinate clause: What thing is (it that) his sister has given to him for his birthday? I'm trying to figure out which would be more natural to the OSV/SOV word order for Teonaht, and it's damned hard.
> > TEBNAR, KWA'R PERVA LO? > > Tebnar, what INT. place he (is)? <--unexpressed copula > > ("where's Tebnar?") > > > > REVBOMCCOVAT LO. > > With outwalking he. > > ("He's out walking.") > > > > LO REVBOMCCOVAT KWA'R PERVA AI? > > His outwalking what INT place it (is)? > > "Where's he walking?" > > > > CELIL VERINYN LO ATWA. > > In the park he walks. > > "He's walking in the park." > > > >If topic (and I'm recalling this from memory) is the new information > >that > >forms the subject of the new sentence, then that gets fronted. > > Ah - if I understand you aright, you mean that, e.g. 'revbomccovat' has > been given as new information and then gets put at the start of the next > question. As I understand it, when given as the answer to the first > question, it is the focus (Certainly in the last answer 'celil verinyn' is > the focus); but in the following question, you are picking up what has > already been focussed and are now using it as an established fact, i.e. > that he's out walking, and it is therefore the entity, i.e. topic, that the > next questions wants comments about (if you see what I mean :)
I'm in a prednisone haze here... (eye infection) which is adding to my usual mental haze. I honestly can't tell any of these apart. Focus and comment in Teonaht seem to occupy the same position in the sentence.
> >But it > >also looks as though focus gets fronted as well. > > I agree. > It looks to me as tho in the questions the topic is fronted and in the > answers the focus gets fronted.
Everything is fronted. Only the active verb gets such shoddy treatment. <G> ...
> >The verb can only be fronted if it's turned into a nominalization. > >Let's > >see: > > > > HOVAR KWA'R TOBRE LODDEY? > > There what INT. thing he does? > > "What is he doing there?" > > > > BOMHHTINDELREM EUIL TAHN LO. > > With singing to the songbirds he. <--copula suppressed > > "He's singing to the songbirds." > > Yes, that's fronting the focus in the answer. It's not unlike what Welsh > does either, since if you want to focus the verb, then the verbnoun must be > used. For example:
useful examples omitted... thanks...
> > It looks very much like the Welsh practice of fronting the focus.
Well...Welsh made a huge impact on me when I was 21 and had under my belt only German, French, Spanish, Old English, and Latin. All the Celtic languages did. Teonaht took on a decidedly Celtic "oddness," but I bent over backwards not to copy Welsh's most distinctive features, such as INITIAL MUTATION (at least in everything except the vocative), the verb initial word order, the absence of object pronouns (She is my loving... i.e., she loves me), and the different ways in different tenses to say no and yes. It was very important for me to make Teonaht a language of its own unique type, and not a CELTIC language, and I endeavored to introduce unique constructions into it. But nonetheless, there are some features that betray my early admiration: the verb/noun, the periphrastic construction, and some of the features it shares with Hebrew like "the girl red her hair I met" (I met the girl who had red hair). But there are plenty of other traits I've loaded it with that I think are uniquely "Teonean," as I used to call it. In the meantime... do I front or not front the interrogative in an OSV/SOV language? Sally