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LINGUIST List 20.1223

Thu Apr 02 2009

Diss: Historical Ling/Phonology/Syntax: Speyer: 'Topicalization and...'

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        1.    Augustin Speyer, Topicalization and Clash Avoidance: On the interaction of prosody and syntax in the history of English with a few glimpses at German

Message 1: Topicalization and Clash Avoidance: On the interaction of prosody and syntax in the history of English with a few glimpses at German
Date: 02-Apr-2009
From: Augustin Speyer <speyerbabel.ling.upenn.edu>
Subject: Topicalization and Clash Avoidance: On the interaction of prosody and syntax in the history of English with a few glimpses at German
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Institution: University of Pennsylvania
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Augustin Speyer

Dissertation Title: Topicalization and Clash Avoidance: On the interaction of prosody and syntax in the history of English with a few glimpses at German

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            German, Standard (deu)
                            Middle English (enm)
                            Old English (ang)

Dissertation Director:
Eugene Buckley
Anthony S. Kroch
Jiahong Yuan
Donald A. Ringe
Rolf Noyer

Dissertation Abstract:

The first chapter gives a brief overview over the methods and theories
used. The object of study bears on at least three different linguistic
modules, syntax, phonology (mainly prosody) and information structure,
therefore the way how they are seen in this study and how they interact
needs to be introduced to the reader, as few readers will have full
expertise in all three fields.

In the second chapter the decline of object topicalization in the history
of English is presented. The reason is neither a general tendency of
English word order to become more rigid (topicalization stayed
grammatical), nor a loss of pragmatic environments in which topicalization
was felicitous (the environments stayed the same). By closer look we see
that only sentences with full noun subjects are affected. The
interpretation pursued in the thesis is that the loss of the V2 word order
option led to situations in which topicalization would easily lead to the
juxtaposition of focused element (as in 'beans, John likes, but peas, Mary
likes'). Since this situation conflicts with the Clash Avoidance
Requirement, language users chose not to topicalize in such cases.

Chapter 3 shows experimental evidence for the Clash Avoidance Requirement:
In both English and German the participants avoided use of constructions
violating the Clash Avoidance Requirement. If forced, they inserted clearly
measurable pauses between the clashing accents. As a consequence of these
findings, the proper treatment of metrical prominence and focal emphasis -
focal emphasis understood as emphasis on an element in narrow focus - in
the framework of Metrical Stress Theory is discussed. The Clash Avoidance
Requirement appears here as essential condition on the relevant grid
construction rules.

The fourth chapter investigates topicalization and the Clash Avoidance
Requirement in Old English. Among sentences with topicalization, the
variation of V2 and V3 sentences is shown not to be strictly governed by
the kind of subject - pronoun subject leading to V3, lexical NP subject to
V2 - but to be sensitive to the information-structural function of both
topicalized element and subject. As there are several V3 sentences with a
full noun phrase subject, and it can be shown by direct evidence and by
statistical modeling that they cannot be verb-last sentences in disguise,
an analysis on the lines of van Kemenade (1987) is not tenable; the data
can be explained only by analyses that feature two subject positions such
as Haeberli (2002). We detect a clear correlation between V2 and focus on
either the subject or the topicalized element which supports the theory of
a prosodic motivation for the Middle English decline presented in chapter 2.

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