B. Pat said SHE called.
If SHE refers to Pat, it is referentially given in virtually every possible sense. The intended referent is presupposed, specific, referential, familiar, activated , in focus, identifiable, hearer old, and discourse old. But the subject of the embedded sentence is at the same time relationally new, and therefore receives a high pitched accent here. It instantiates the variable in the relationally given, topical part of the sentence, x called, thus yielding the new information expressed in (2B).
(3) An old preacher down there, they augered under the grave where his father was buried. (Prince 1985)
1. The Logical Form of a sentence, and the expressed proposition which is an enrichment¹ of that form, is a topic-comment structure, where the topic is what the proposition is about and the comment is the main predication about the topic. Sentences with non-familiar topics will be well-formed, provided that the topic is referential, and thus capable of combining with a predicate to form a full proposition.
2. Topic-comment structure determines how the information expressed in the proposition is assessed in order to derive contextual effects¹, assessment being carried out relative to the topic. Utterances with non-familiar topics yield no contextual effects¹, since assessment can only be carried out if the processor already has a mental representation of the topic. Such utterances are thus irrelevant¹, and therefore pragmatically deviant.
Like other pragmatically based effects, the familiarity restriction on topics can be suspended under appropriate conditions. Thus, sentences like (3) are not pragmatically deviant since contextual effects can be derived without assessing the truth of the proposition in relation to the topic (or assessment could be or carried out only nominally with respect to the familiar phrase that the topic is anchored in), In such cases, the proposition is simply accepted as new information¹ without actually checking whether it contradicts, strengthens or otherwise adds to existing assumptions. This account receives support from the fact that when assessment is essential, dislocation of indefinites becomes incoherent, as in (4b).
(4) a. The old preacher down there, did they auger under the grave where his father was buried.
b. ??An old preacher down there, did they auger under the grave where his father was buried?
Thus, while the topic-comment (presupposition/focus ) relation is clearly linguistic in nature, the familiarity condition and corresponding definiteness effects¹ of topics, follow from general pragmatic/cognitive principles. They are not part of the grammar.
Chomsky, N. 1971. Deep structure, surface structure and semantic interpretation. In
D. Steinberg and L. Jakobovits, eds., Semantics, an Interdisciplinary Reader
in Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology. CUP, 183-216.
Davison, A. 1984. Syntactic markedness and the definition of sentence topic. Language 60, 797-846.
Erteschik-Shir, N. 1997. The Dynamics of Focus Structure. Cambridge Univ. Press.
Gundel, J.K. 1974. The Role of Topic and Comment in Linguistic Theory. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Texas at Austin. Published by Garland, 1989.
Gundel, J.K. 1980. Zero NP-anaphora in Russian: a case of topic-prominence. In CLS 16. Papers from the Parasession on Anaphora, pp. 139-146.
Gundel, J. K. 1985. Shared knowledge and topicality. Journal of Pragmatics, 9: 83-107.
Gundel, J.K 1988. Universals of topic-comment structure. In M. Hammond et al, eds., Studies in Syntactic Typology, John Benjamins, 209-239..
Gundel, J.K., N. Hedberg and R. Zacharski. 1993. Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language 69:274-307.
Gundel, J.K. 1998. On different kinds of focus. In P. Bosch and Rob van der Sandt, Focus in Natural Language Processing. CUP.
Heim, Irene R. 1982. The semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases. Amherst: University of Massachusetts dissertation.
Lambrecht, K. (1994). Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic, Focus and the Mental Representation of discourse referents. Cambridge University Press.
Prince, E. 1985. Fancy syntax and shared knowledge. Journal of Pragmatics 9.65-81.
Prince. E. 1992. The ZPG letter: subjects, definiteness, and information status.² In S.
Thompson and W. Mann (eds.) Discourse Description: Diverse Analyses of a Fund Raising Text. John Benjamins , 295-325.
Reinhart, T. 1982. Pragmatics and linguistics. An analysis of sentence topics. Philosophica 27:53-94.
Sperber, D. and D. Wilson. 1986/1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell.
Vallduvi, E. 1992. The Informational Component. New York.
About the PLC23 Committee
Previously held Penn Linguistics Colloquium: PLC22 (1998), PLC21 (1997)
Penn Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania