LINGUIST List 14.3111

Thu Nov 13 2003

Diss: Text/Corpus Ling: Mulkern: 'Cognitive...'

Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui <>


  1. a.e.mulkern, Cognitive Status, Discourse Salience, and Information Structure

Message 1: Cognitive Status, Discourse Salience, and Information Structure

Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 15:33:23 -0500 (EST)
From: a.e.mulkern <>
Subject: Cognitive Status, Discourse Salience, and Information Structure

Institution: University of Minnesota
Program: Linguistics Program
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003

Author: Ann E. Mulkern 

Dissertation Title: Cognitive Status, Discourse Salience, and
Information Structure: Evidence from Irish and Oromo

Linguistic Field: Text/Corpus Linguistics, Syntax, Pragmatics,
Linguistic Theories, Cognitive Science 

Subject Language: Oromo, Eastern (code: HAE) Gaelic, Irish (code: GLI)

Dissertation Director 1: Nancy J. Stenson

Dissertation Abstract: 

This dissertation examines the interaction of syntax and pragmatics,
focusing on some specific phenomena in Irish and Oromo. I argue that
the best way to account for these phenomena is by assuming the
existence of information structure (IS) as a separate component of

Adopting the framework of Lambrecht (1994), the elements of the IS
component represent three types: (i) presupposition and assertion,
(ii) identifiability and activation, having to do with the cognitive
status of the mental representations of discourse referents, and (iii)
the relational elements of topic and focus. In place of the theory of
reference used by Lambrecht for (ii), I use the Givenness Hierarchy
proposed by Gundel, Hedberg, and Zacharski (1993), which identifies
six implicationally related cognitive statuses relevant for explaining
the use of different types of nominal expressions in all
languages. Using data from naturally occurring Irish discourses, I
show that the Givenness Hierarchy can be used to account for the use
of referring expressions in Irish.

Based on a proposal by Clamons, Mulkern, and Sanders (1993), I
identify two types of relative salience associated with entities in a
discourse: inherent salience, determined by the history of the
discourse, and imposed salience, indicating the importance or
foregrounding the speaker chooses to give to particular discourse
entities. The notion of imposed salience is used in developing more
precise characterizations of contrast and emphasis. Using these
characterizations, three particular pronominal forms in Irish, which
signal the same cognitive status for their referents, are shown to
differ in what they signal about the relative discourse salience of
their referents. I also show that the phenomenon of object preposing
in Oromo is a strategy for imposing salience on the object, sensitive
to the relative inherent salience of the subject and object.
I argue that analyses of pronoun postposing in Irish appealing
exclusively to syntactic processes are inherently inadequate, showing
that the phenomenon follows from the association of the syntactic
structure with the IS elements of presupposition and assertion. In
Oromo, subject-verb agreement is dependent on the information status
of the subject; specifically, whether or not it is a topic.
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