Langwidge Sandwidge with Caitlin Light

Posted on November 7, 2013 by


Last year circumstances conspired to keep York’s Caitlin Light from reaching Manchester in time to give her Sandwidge talk. This year we’re hoping for a better result! On Tuesday November 12th, Caitlin will be talking about The pragmatics of demonstratives in Germanic. Here’s the abstract:

This paper demonstrates, based on synchronic and diachronic data from English, German, and Icelandic, that demonstrative pronouns in Germanic are pragmatically contrastive. Using data on object topicalization, we show that in information structurally driven operations, demonstrative pronouns pattern more like contrastive elements than like non-contrastive ones.

In various Germanic languages, an operation traditionally termed topicalization has been observed, by which various XPs may move to the left edge of the clause. This may be observed both in so-called “verb-second” (V2) languages, where it triggers subject-verb inversion, and in non-V2 languages as well. While the topicalization of contrastive elements is allowed across various Germanic languages, topicalization of unstressed, non-contrastive elements is possible in German but disallowed in Dutch, Icelandic, and English. Frey (2006) proposes that object topicalization in German is the result of two types of movement: Formal Movement (FM), which has no interpretive effect but targets only the highest XP below the C domain; and True A-Bar Movement (TAB), which results in a contrastive interpretation on the topicalized constituent. Since TAB targets only information structurally contrastive elements, non-contrastive topicalization of the sort allowed in German may occur only via FM. Light (2012) expands this analysis to account for topicalization across Germanic. FM occurs solely to satisfy the V2 constraint; non-contrastive topicalization is entirely disallowed in non-V2 languages, like English, which may topicalize only via TAB.

Given the previous analysis, we may predict that non-contrastive topicalization of any DP should only be available in V2 languages, when FM is allowed. This talk focuses on an unexpected result: corpus studies of German, Icelandic, English and Dutch show that both V2 and non-V2 Germanic languages allow topicalization of demonstrative pronouns which seem to bear no plausible contrastive interpretation. In the case of object topicalization, demonstrative pronouns are behaving consistently like contrastively marked elements. We link this to an analysis suggested in Schwarz (to appear), which suggests that demonstrative pronouns in German may refer only to entities which do not occur in every alternative to the topic situation. On these grounds we argue that demonstrative pronouns are sub-informative, a label which has been applied to contrastive elements, like contrastive topics (Gast 2010). This result is a better understanding of the behaviour of demonstrative pronouns in discourse.

Before the talk, Caitlin, Laurel and others will be going for lunch; meet at Laurel’s office (N1.1) at 11:45. The talk itself is 1-2pm in Samuel Alexander A215.

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