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On Mon, 13 Aug 2012 19:58:12 -0300, Hugo Cesar de Castro Carneiro wrote:

>I understand that these langauges usually put the subject as the focus of
>the clause <...>

I think there's a wrong assumption here. In terms of topic-focus division (a. k. a. theme-rheme, which terminology I prefer, BTW, for both "focus" and "topic" have too many other uses) subjects tend to be topics=themes rather than focuses=rhemes.

On Mon, 13 Aug 2012 23:10:42 -0400, Mike S. wrote:

>That's a pretty big can of worms.  Topic and focus are indicated all sorts
>of ways, including in English clefting and intonation.  I have no idea if
>anyone can make general correlations between information flow and word
>order, but I'd be interested to hear from anyone who could.

I think "posponing the new information" is an accepted principle. Also, *statistically*, subjects tend to be themes, in-focus parts of rhemes are objects more often than anything else (in transitive clauses), and finite verbs tend to be backgrounded (i. e. neither the contrasstive part of focus nor the in-focus part of rhemes. Hmmm... did I mention that "focus" is a confusing term?). Which seems to mean, BTW, that languages with truly free ordering of main constituents will be statistically SVO.

However, I suspect there's no solid typology behind all that. In particular, I wonder if "posponing the new information" is indeed universal, that is, if there are indeed no languages putting their rhemes first (when there's a choice); a lot of languages have this as an emphatic option, but I'm really curious if it's the default anywhere.

-- Basilius