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CONLANG  September 2015, Week 1

CONLANG September 2015, Week 1

Subject:

Re: Marking Topic

From:

Jyri Lehtinen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 2 Sep 2015 16:51:41 +0300

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (53 lines)

Terms you want to search for are topicality, information structure, and
pragmatic marking. In addition to the topic, look also what's written on
the pragmatic focus, which is commonly used instead of comment as the
technical term for the constituent bearing (and possibly highlighted for)
the relevant new information in a sentence. You can find one recent
description of the concepts of the "topic" and "focus" from
https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/152802 (Sects. 2.2.2. and 2.2.3.,
pp. 19-24).

Different languages use different strategies to distinguish new information
from established information and most don't have such prominent topic
marking systems as you find in East Asia. Nevertheless, all languages have
ways to make it clear what's the presupposed background and what's the new
information provided about it. In English, for example, the syntactic
subject is strongly correlated with the topic, so that if the object is
intended to be the topic instead, the sentence is commonly turned into
passive voice. In languages you might say to have free word order, it's
often sufficient just to move a constituent in front of everything else to
mark them for topicality. In the Ob-Ugric langauges, like Mansi, there's a
complex system of verb morphology involving active and passive voices and
optional object agreement. In a simplified way, the choice of the voice
there has to do with the topicality of the agent and the use of the object
agreement with the topicality of the objects

Because of such variation both between and within languages, it can be a
difficult task to get a full picture of information structure handling
across the world. For this reason I urge you to do the literature search by
the grammatical categories instead of individual types of structures.

   -Jyri



2015-09-02 12:29 GMT+03:00 Daniel Demski <[log in to unmask]>:

> It appears that what little formal linguistics education I've had has
> mislead me regarding the theoretical importance of topic/comment
> structures. I think the intention within the linguistics course I had was
> to point out that not all languages work like Western languages by
> mentioning that some languages treat the topic/comment distinction as more
> important than subject/object. But unless I just don't know the
> terminology, there's nothing in WALS about this structure.
>
> Anyway, I know that in Japanese the topic marker -wa is very common, and I
> seem to remember that the language Imonda has a topic marker ("-fe" I
> think) which has some unusual features (If I'm remembering right it can
> occur multiple times in one sentence). What I'm having trouble finding is a
> broader overview of languages and the different ways topic markers are
> handled.
>
> -Daniel Demski
>

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