LINGUIST List 14.2977

Fri Oct 31 2003

Review: Ling Theories: Hladk� (2002)

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  1. Pablo Kirtchuk-Halevi, Language and Function: To the Memory of Jan Firbas

Message 1: Language and Function: To the Memory of Jan Firbas

Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 18:15:46 +0000
From: Pablo Kirtchuk-Halevi <>
Subject: Language and Function: To the Memory of Jan Firbas

Hladk�, Josef, ed. (2002) Language and Function: To the Memory of Jan
Firbas, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Studies in Functional and
Structural Linguistics 49.

Announced at

Pablo Kirtchuk-Halevi, Ben Gurion University

This is a collection of papers dedicated to the memory of Professor
Jan Firbas, from the Masaryk University of Brno, Czech Republic. As
stated in ''Jan Firbas - an outstanding personality of European
linguistics'', by J. Svoboda (p. 1-7), Firbas developed the ideas of
Mathesius and even coined the term Functional Sentence Perspective
(FSP). While persecuted in his home country by the communist regime
until the early nineties, he became famous abroad. He has shown that
FSP is determined, not by word order, or context, or intonation alone,
but by the interplay of at least the following factors: context,
semantics, linearity and intonation. He introduced the scales of
dynamic semantic functions, described the complexities of context and
threw new light on the function of intonation. He produced specific as
well as general studies, totalizing 140 papers on FSP, most of them in
English, a language to which many of them are also devoted. Following
this paper comes a bibliography of F's works (9-22).

There's no such thing as syntax - and it's a good thing, too'' -
(23-37) by R. de Beaugrande begins with a well-argued attack against
the generativist views on syntax; then it moves on to a historical
review on Prague developments on the subject. Finally, the writer
gives his own views: the key words are corpus data, collocations and
colligations, which make him ''establish the merited respect for the
multifunctional creativity of ordinary discourse in human affairs''
(p. 34).

'Old English <tha> revisited', by L. E. Breivik (39-55), claims that,
though it is undeniable that this particle plays an important
discursive role as shown by Enkvist (1972, 1986, 1994) and others, it
plays a syntactic role as well. Allusion is made to Hopper's paper
from 1979 in which he discusses morphosyntactic grounding devices in a
number of languages including OE, and shows that typologically, these
devices assume a wide range of forms, intersecting with transitivity,
definiteness, tense-aspect systems, etc. He finds that in OE,
different word orders are used as discourse devices: SVO syntax is
characteristic of main episodes, and minor ones begin with VSO
preceded by <tha>, which can be amplified by an adverbial phrase. When
<tha> is posited as first element, it is to allow for the verb to
precede the subject. It would carry out an important job on the
syntactic level as a topical element in the V2 structure. These views
are consistent with Givon's (1977) according to which SOV moves to SVO
through VSO and with Stockwell's (1977) according to which xvSO(V) is
the origin of V2 clauses in OE. VSO would be the ''moving order'',
namely the one in which actions, nor participants, are primary in the
expression. This reviewer should like to add a crucial point to
enhance this theory, which was overlooked both by the writer and his
inspirers: the deictic origin of <tha>. It is, then, a foregrounder, a
presentative by nature, with temporal specialization; and since the
element carrying temporal/dynamic effect in the clause is the verb,
then (= <tha>) in dynamic clauses, where V is foregrounded, it is
<tha> which presents it. In Contemporary Hebrew, S generally precedes
V, save when the clause begins by an adverbial, especially one of
time: then,V precedes S, for the same reason as in OE.

''The double basis of the Prague Functional Approach: Mathesius and
Jakobson'', by F. Danes (57-69) shows the convergences and
discrepancies of those two spirits: For the former, whose theories
were always in direct contact with the observation of reality, ''the
starting point of the investigation will be the communicative needs of
the speaker'', while the latter tended towards a teleological view
according to which ''the system of language is always striving after
some kind of balance of its elements''. While Jakobson tended to
reduce Mathesius' interplay of tendencies to a set of hierarchically
ordered rules, Mathesius steered closer to the humanist approach in
the quest for crucial problems rather than exclusive solutions. This
reviewer wonders if time has not come to reconsider the real depth and
relevance of Jakobson's work, especially when compared with the one
made by names often associated with his, especially Mathesius and
Buehler. It is our contention that they saw further and deeper than
their more famous and versatile peer.

''FSP and the grammar of the weather in English'', by K. Davidse & A.
Noppen (71-88) attributes to English common weather construal an
ambient it plus an ongoing process, whose configurations generally
align either with (in)transitive or (in)ergative construction
paradigm. It is tempting to interpret things that way, but it seems
an abuse to assign an ergative value to a given construction just
because an inanimate is placed as subject. ''The sun brightens the
world'' is an accusative, not an ergative structure, since ''world''
is posited at the direct object's position, it can be rendered subject
at the passive voice, etc., whereas ''the sun'' is syntactically
marked as a plain subject. True, linguistic elements representing
atmospheric phenomena do have specific syntactical behaviours (e.g.,
in Hebrew precipitations can have two different valencies and,
accordingly, two different positions in the sentence, with no change
of diathesis), but that is not a sufficient condition to determine
that one of those constructions is ergative.

''Theme, information and cohesion'', by M. Davies (89-109) shows that
the three work together to create texture, which makes the difference
between text and non-text. He does so by analyzing an extract from the
New Testament in Greek, Latin and English. He works within a framework
established among others by Halliday, who rightly considers intonation
as part and parcel of the system of language, certainly not as an
added part. What is difficult to grasp is the author's need to insist
on the difference between Theme and Subject, which by now is
commonplace and obvious, in part thanks to the Prague school itself.

''Negotiating topic coherence through talk-in-action'', by A. Downing
(111-126) shows that ''in the analysis of conversation in which one
speaker appears to have pre-established goals, an action sequence
analysis is not compatible with a discussion of topicality at various
levels: global, episodic and local. In the reciprocal understanding
constructed by the participants in discourse such as this, the
conceptual strand and the actional strand are intertwined to achieve
mutual coherence''.

''Constancy of syntactic function across languages'' by L. Duskova
(127- 145) studies, through translations in both directions, the
divergence between English (E) and Czech (C) regarding word order,
syntactic function and information role. Czech is an inflectional
language where grammatical functions are determined by word endings,
hence word order is free and may show theme-rheme relations, whereas
in English, an almost isolating language, word order is practically
the only device to mark grammatical relations and is therefore
confined to this role. In C, the rheme is almost exclusively final,
while in E, rhematic subjects occur mostly in final position, but
appear in medial or initial position as well. Discrepancies result
when, in order to imitate the word order of the original E, a
translation to C puts the rhematic subject in initial position, which
causes the C reader to miss the whole point. ''Functional sentence
perspective and translation'', by P. Newmark (237-245) deals with a
similar problematic.

''A consideration of the thematiser 'wa' in Japanese'', by K. Fukuda
(147-160) states that Halliday's approach does not apply to Japanese,
while FSP gives satisfactory results. In this perspective, ''wa'' is a
thematiser while ''ga'' marks non-thematic subjects. An interesting
point is that brand-new information, specific or non-specific, cannot
become Theme. Yet, the translation to English of sentences with or
without the particle is analogous, which is somewhat
problematic. English does have means, if not morphemic ones, to
explicitly mark theme and rheme. Intonation does not seem to be

''The semantic field Unterhaltung and entertainment in their
paradigmatic and syntagmatic interrelations'', by R. Gl'ser (161-184)
shows the contamination of meaning of the German lexeme and its
semantic field by the English counterparts as a result of American
influence. A sentence worth quoting is Bertolt Brecht's ''Die
Scheidung der Beduerfnisse nach Unterhaltung und Unterhalt ist eine

''Observational linguistics and semiotics'', by L. Lipka (211-222) is
amusing, original and innovative. It deals with special characters,
typography, graphic symbols, acronyms and other icons used in language
- especially written, but also oral. They are used, among others, as
attention-seeking devices. Fondness of innovation has its pitfalls,
however: the anecdote about code-switching in Alsace is of a type
quite common in the very many places where multilingualism is the rule
; the formula ''je vous fais la bise'' followed by a real kiss on the
cheek is commonplace not only in France, and the language spoken in
Israel is Hebrew, not Israeli (just as the one spoken in the U.S.A. is
English, not Usish). An author definitely lacking in the bibliography
is Jean- Marie Zemb, the Alsatian Professor of German Linguistic
Thought at the College de France, who devoted several studies to
related problems.

''Evidentiality and the construction of writer stance in native and
non- native texts'', by J. Neff & al. (223-235) sees ''evidentiality''
as the expression of ''attitudes towards knowledge''. The term is
used, then, in a different meaning as compared with the current one
(see, for example, Aikhenvald 2000). Spanish uses chiefly ''poder =
can'' as well as grammatical devices - subjunctive, but also
conditional, future, etc. - while English applies lexical items: may,
say, observe, etc. An interesting finding is that Spanish academic
writers tend to use the first person plural, as pluralis modestatis
but also to establish complicity with the reader, while Anglo-Saxon
ones, who belong to a more individualistic culture, consistently use

''Topic-focus articulation in the Czech National Corpus'', by
E. Hajicova (184-194) describes the procedure by which are annotated
some 100.000 sentences of the Czech National corpus for Topic-Focus
Articulation (TFA). It is a computer-assisted method.

''The functions and meanings of word-formations (with reference to
Modern English)'' by K. Hansen (195-210) states that ''there are at
least three semantic layers or components that have to be considered
if one wants to describe the basic meanings of word-formation as
naming units: the logico-semantic relation between their immediate
constituents, the topicalization assigned to the underlying
logico-semantic structure, and additional semantic components as far
as they occur systematically''. Without entering the subject-matter,
let us note that OE ''hlafweard'' does not mean ''bodyguard'', as
stated p. 207, but ''guard of the loaf (of bread)''.

''Towards a history of linguistic ideas: A note on Jan Firbas and the
Prague school'', by J. Qian (255-268) is one of the best papers of the
book, by a Chinese scholar whom we salute for his mastery of the
history of Western modern linguistic thought. He traces the sources of
Mathesius insights concerning the theme-rheme dichotomy as opposed to
the subject-predicate one, and reminds that it is Henri Weil (1818-
1909), in his 1844 ''De l'ordre des mots dans les langues anciennes
compare aux langues modernes'', who inspired Mathesius and through him
the Prague school as such. Weil analyses a sentence as consisting of
two parts, ''le point de depart, une notion initiale'' and ''le but du
discours''. Had Qian gone even further in his historical research, he
would have noticed that Weil knew Hebrew, and he might have been
familiar with the work of the Arab grammarians of the first centuries
of the Hegire, who established, for the nominal sentence, the
distinction between /mubtada/, ''beginning'', and /xabar/,
''news''. This distinction, which rests upon the informational
structure of the sentence as opposed to the syntactic one,
cf. /musnad/ ''predicate'', /musnad ''ilayhi/ 'subject'', is of clear
Praguian orientation, with a thousand years of anticipation.

''From functional sentence perspective to topic-focus articulation'',
by P. Sgall (279-287) begins by stating that, within FSP, Firbas
contributed especially to develop three points: (1) a new layer of
understanding of the FSP phenomena has been achieved through his
treatment of individual sentence parts and establishing a scale of
communicative dynamism (CD) from theme to rheme; (2) The
interpretation of the sentence as a field in which CD is distributed;
(3) The degree of CD of a noun adjunct is higher than that of the noun
itself, and that holds for other types of kernel-adjunct phrases,
e.g. verb and verbal complemen. This reviewer has shown that long ago
concerning so- called direct objects, in a Tesniere-inspired approach
second-actants, and other adjuncts we have called ad-verbals. In many
languages they are marked in a similar way and are what we have called
''the rheme of the predicate'' (see Kirtchuk 1987, 89, 93, etc.). The
rest of the paper investigates the ways in which intonation and word
order may concur to distribute CD among the sentence parts.

''-ende/-ing in the history of English'', by T. Swan (289-305)
discusses linguistic changes in the use and form of the English
present participle, comparing the use uses of OE -ende to that of
Modern English (ME) -ing. We are reminded of the possible origins of
-ing, either a coalescence with the verbal noun which in OE had-ing (<
-ung) or a development of the inflected infinitive -inge, found in
Wycliffe. Then, its uses are listed as follows: progressive aspect;
converb/adverbial complement (''he went home praising God''); gerund
(''he noticed two boats lying at the water's edge''); postmodification
(''all who had friends suffering''); adjective (what an unbelieving
generation''); adverb (the clothes became dazzling white); preposition
and conjunction (''all the people, including them''). In OE it goes
much the same, except for the progressive aspect use, which is
incipient in OE and widely spread in ME, covering all tenses, moods
and diatheses. In that, ME differs from other Germanic tongues as
well. Swan attributes it to Latin influence, stating in a nice formula
that ''in English, style has become syntax''. The participle has
become largely verbal. What is dazzling here is that, though he
acknowledges that changes affected English when it was in a situation
of language contact, bilingualism, etc., French is not mentioned even
once. Indeed, the final part, which presents English as packaging
information in a simple, streamlining and efficient way, elegantly
foregrounding the main message while backgrounding and subordinating
other information, brings into one's mind Rivarole's Eloge de la
langue Francaise, which granted him the Berlin prize in the late 18th
century. One wonders where and why does elegance hide when
Shakespeare's tongue is spoken by a plain New Yorker, Texan, Cockney
and tutti quanti.

''Lexical rules in Robert Baker's 'Reflections on the English
language''' by E. Vorlat (325-336) is the precise opposite of the
paper by Swan inasmuch as R. Baker's ''Reflections'' were inspired by
Vaugelas's ''Remarques sur la Langue Francaise'' (1647) and are
reminiscent of their modern heir, Grevisse's ''Le Bon
Usage''. Moreover, he often attributes certain lexical and grammatical
misuses of English to French influence, which he thus
acknowledges. Baker, through E. Vorlat, reminds us that in all things
human, including language, there is right and wrong, beautiful and
ugly, good and bad, and, to say it in French, aimable et detestable,
whether this statement be politically correct or not.

''Old Javanese word structure'', by E. M. Uhlenbeck (307-314) is
supposed to confirm Humboldt's view (1836) that Old Javanese is a
marriage between Sanskrit lexicon and Indonesian
grammar. Unfortunately, practically no morphological information is
given in terms of affixation, agglutination, isolation, inflection and
the like, except in one paragraph towards the end; no examples are
morphologically analyzed, and the only (scarce) data refer to
phonotactics and syllabic structure. A cryptic sentence like ''words
with grammatical functions, such as ta and pwa, play an important role
in OJ syntax'' has one advantage: it leads one to look into a grammar
of that language, in order to learn what that important role actually

Other articles are: ''Linguistics across Borders: The EIL phenomenon''
(247-254) by G. Nickel, ''Some sociolinguistic considerations on Old
English phonology'', by H. Schendl (269-278) and ''On the associative
anaphor in fairy tales'', by L. Uhlirova (315-324)

This book deals with functional linguistics in a pre-cognitivist, pre-
typological way. It is therefore slightly old-fashioned, which suits
its Mittel-Europa spirit, classy and scholarly. It could have been
even more so had the authors (with the notable exception of Uhlenbeck)
taken in account contemporary French and German bibliography, which
was familiar to the Founding Fathers of the Prague school and their
heirs, including Firbas. This is a lack which this very European book
shares with its American counterparts. Moreover, the real
applicability of Prague FSP would be best tested if applied to
languages remote and typologically different from each other: yet, in
this book many articles have English as their subject-matter, and one
cannot but wonder whether the n-th paper on English has the same value
as the first article on an utterly unknown tongue. Finally, we regret
that in a book devoted to a subject in which intonation has such a
prominent place, and rightly so, most examples are written without
properly representing the intonation contours, save by conventional
and highly unsatisfactory punctuation.


Aikhenvald, A. Y. & Dixon R. M. W. 2003. Studies in Evidentiality.
Typological Studies in Language 54. John Benjamins.

Kirtchuk P. 1987. Structures actancielles en Quechua. Actances 3: 159-

Kirtchuk P. 1989. Classes de verbes en Hebreu (biblique et
contemporain): Etude morphosyntaxique et semantique (''Verb Classes in
Hebrew''). Actances 4: 137-173. RIVALC-CNRS.

Kirtchuk P. 1995. Actants Y atypiques. Proceedings of the Symposium
Lucien Tesniere aujourd'hui, Mont-Saint-Aignan 1992:302-306. Peeters.


Pablo I. Kirtchuk-Halevi investigates general linguistics from a
functional-cognitive-typological point of view. The language families
he works on more specifically are Amerind (Quechua, Guarani,
Pilaga...) and Afro-Asiatic (Semitic: Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic...), as
well as the Romance groupo of Indo-European. His PhD (Paris, 1993),
originally a study of Noun Classes in Pilaga, led him to conclude that
at the origin of language is Deixis and that the classical Saussurean
and Chomskyan dichotomies such as langue-parole,
competence-performance etc. should be reversed. This is what he calls
'the Copernican revolution in Linguistics'.
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