Topic-Focus Articulation and degrees of salience in the Prague Dependency Treebank


Since Eloise Jelinek has been interested in the issues of negation, focus and information structure, to the research of which she has contributed substantially, we want to use this nice occasion and present here partial results of an analysis of the Topic-Focus articulation (TFA) of Czech and of the impact of these results on inquiries into coreferrence in coherent discourse. In Czech linguistics, TFA has been systematically explored thanks to the classical Prague School of functional and structural linguistics. As reflecting the 'given – new' strategy in discourse, TFA has been considered to belong to the main objects of linguistic study. Continuing the results gained by V. Mathesius, J. Firbas and others since the 1920s, the explicit linguistic descriptive framework characterized in Sgall et al. includes a possibility to describe TFA not only as concerning the intrinsic dynamics of the process of communication, patterned in the utterance (sentence occurrence), but also as constituting the structure of the sentence itself, i.e. grammar. Within this framework, TFA is understood as one of the basic aspects of (underlying) sentence structure, which characterizes the sentence as a unit of the interactive system of language; TFA thus is seen as a manifestation of the sentence being anchored in the context. To put it quite briefly, we may characterize the Praguian framework as based on the relation of syntactic dependency; the framework does not work with the concept of 'constituent'. This makes it easier to account for the fact that, as our examples below document, most different combinations of sentence parts may belong either to Topic or to Focus. In the underlying representations of sentences, which prorotypically are dependency trees, the left-to-right order of nodes, i.e. the underlying word order (the scale of 'communicative dynamism') starts with Topic proper and proceeds to Focus proper (the most dynamic part of the sentence). The interplay of word order and of specific features of sentence prosody corresponds to the underlying word order as its expression means. TFA is semantically relevant, as the following examples show: (1)(a) I work on my dissertation on Sundays. (b) On Sundays, I work on my dissertation. (2)(a) We went by car to a lake. (b) We went to a lake by car. (3)(a) They moved from Chicago to Boston. (b) They moved to Boston from Chicago. The semantic basis of TFA may be seen in the relation of aboutness: a prototypical declarative sentence asserts …

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Showing 1-7 of 7 references

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