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Academic Paper

Title: Cleft Sentences: Form, Function, and Translation
Author: Klaus Fischer
Institution: London Metropolitan University
Linguistic Field: Morphology; Semantics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Although cleft sentences are possible constructions in both English and German, they are far more frequent in English texts. Durrell (2002: 479) observes in his Hammer's German Grammar and Usage that “with the exception of the type Er war es, der mich davon abhielt […], cleft sentence constructions sound unnatural in German and should be avoided.” The article discusses the form and function of cleft sentences in the context of other focusing devices. It shows that, although German and English cleft sentences have the same information structure, their stylistic value is very different. Using a short translation, Durrell's observation is confirmed: in translating cleft sentences into German, semantic equivalence is often sacrificed for stylistic appropriateness. Although structural features of both languages are the ultimate cause of the contrast, they cannot explain choices in each individual case. The article argues that structural typology should be complemented with a typology of parole: the respective frequencies of cleft sentences in both languages reflect neatly into the more verbal style, more hierarchical sentence construction and, in certain respects, greater semantic transparency of English texts (by comparison with their German counterparts).


This article appears IN Journal of Germanic Linguistics Vol. 21, Issue 2, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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