By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Review of Contrasts and Positions in Information Structure
Information structure refers to the different categories (e.g. Topic, Focus, Background) in which information in a sentence is divided. This book primarily addresses current issues in the relationship between syntax and information structure. The fifteen contributors to this book are unanimous in their opinion that information-structural conditions are derived through word order and other phenomena related to the interaction of syntax and other syntax-external systems. This is contrary to the widely held assumption that designated syntactic positions are associated with specific information-structural interpretations. The book is divided into twelve chapters. Chapter One is an introduction, while the remaining chapters are divided into two parts. Part One consists of six chapters while Part Two comprises five chapters. The book also contains an impressive bibliography of eighteen pages, as well as an index.
Ivona Kucerova and Ad Neeleman, who double as the book’s editors, give a clear introduction to the book in Chapter One by outlining the thrusts of the book. The book seeks to determine: the interpretive notions that can be considered information-structural primitives; the relationship between syntax and information structure; the extent to which information structure and semantics are integrated or different levels of representation; and the relationship between information structure and phonology. In line with these objectives, the editors divided the contributions into: Part One: The architecture of grammar and the primitives of information structure; and Part Two: Exploring the interfaces: case studies. Whereas, Part One is meant to give the various hypotheses about linguistic theory, while Part Two discusses a wide range of empirical material regarding information structure and grammar, both parts are not mutually exclusive, rather, they overlap in some cases. The division is only one of emphasis.
The relationship between information structure and phonology is the content of Daniel Büring’s contribution, which is Chapter Two of the book and the first in Part One. In this chapter, ‘Predicate integration: phrase structure or argument structure?’, he argues that prosodic prominence is determined by an abstract notion of ‘structural strength’ by proposing that a syntax-to-prosody mapping integrates an argument-structure-based treatment of predicate integration. This proposal follows from the observation that verbs which follow their arguments often remain unaccented. A similarly asymmetric relationship is also observed between focused materials which are accented and background materials which are unaccented.
The understanding of the mapping between syntax and phonology makes it important to distinguish between intonation assigned to wh-questions and intonation triggered by information-structural properties such as focus versus new versus given. This makes it possible to distinguish information-structural primitives prosodically from other non-information-structural elements. This is the proposal of Hyun Kyung Hwang in Chapter Three, which examines ‘wh-intonation and information structure in South Kyeongsang and Tokyo Japanese’. In this analysis, it is observed that the domain of wh-intonation is the embedded clause including the matrix subject, and not the main clause, whenever a wh-element is scrambled out of an embedded clause into the matrix clause.
‘Grammatical marking of givenness’, by Ivona Kucerova, argues that information structure is not an independent module of grammar, but rather is reducible to independently required pragmatic principles and independently confirmed grammatical procedures such as movement and pronominalisation. This assumption stems from the observation that givenness must have an antecedent when restrictions on scrambling apply in a language such as Czech. Unlike in English, which uses definite articles to express presuppositional requirements, such languages use other tools to achieve the same semantic effect by which the role of information structure in grammar is reduced.
The contribution by Balaz Suranyi, ‘Interface configurations: identificational focus and the flexibility of syntax’, argues that there are exact constructions of Logical Form (LF) mapping rules of identificational focus other than the widely held assumption that such a mapping is direct between LF and Phonetic Form (PF). This assertion is made clear by analyzing data in Hungarian. The interpretation of constituents, which undergo movement as identificational focus in Hungarian, is a result of the creation of a context which serves as input to such a mapping rule. This mapping rule and other principles of grammar, particularly the Stress-Focus Correspondence requirement, ensure that the landing site of the moved constituent must be in overt syntax, making prosodic alignment one of the important factors in the distribution of foci in Hungarian.
The local alternatives approach to the analysis of focus and givenness is a unification of other approaches which also seek to give better insight into the analysis of focus and givenness. This approach, as outlined by Michael Wagner in his contribution, ‘Focus and givenness: a unified approach’, claims that “rendition of a constituent may be shorter and less articulated depending on the degree to which the constituent is accessible in the context; but a prominence shift encodes the presupposition that there is a salient local exclusive alternative” (p. 147). This makes other approaches, such as disanaphora, F-projection and reference set computation, the same as the local alternative approach.
Chapter Seven is the last contribution in Part One. In this contribution, by Edwin Willians, entitled ‘The locality of focusing and the coherence of anaphors’, is the proposal that information structure is more about anaphoric commitments imposed on syntactic representations, as a result of the reversal of the normal stress pattern, than on focus. Underlying these anaphoric commitments is the Disanaphora Law, which is a reversal of the normal stress pattern between sister nodes, making the now weak node anaphoric and the now strong node Disanaphoric.
Part Two of the book examines case studies. It begins with Chapter Eight, ‘NP ellipsis without focus movement/projections: the role of classifiers’, by Artemis Alexiadou and Kirsten Gengel. The contributors of this chapter claim that pragmatic interpretation of focus is not tied to specific syntactic positions designated as information-structural positions. This claim stems from evidence the contributors are able to adduce, namely that NP ellipsis is dependent on the presence of a classifier phrase, whereby the focusing effect is a side-effect of the process that licenses ellipsis. This stance goes against the widely held position that NP ellipsis is licensed through focus movement or focus projections.
Theodora Alexopoulou and Mary Baltazani analyze multiple focus sentences in Greek in their contribution (Chapter Nine), entitled, ‘Focus in Greek wh-questions’, by focusing on the interaction between prosody, syntax and information structure. They are able to show in this chapter that, even though Greek permits sentences that contain multiple focused constituents, it is not the case that it also permits multiple foci in sentences where one focused item has moved to the left periphery. Therefore, the contributors are of the opinion that this phenomenon can only be accounted for if a prosodic interpretation is allowed as part of the analysis. Toward this end, they observed that Greek does not permit multiple sentence nuclei; consequently, the number of foci in certain sentences is restricted, indirectly. This claim is contrary to what is widely held in the literature.
Chapter Ten is a contribution by Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng and Laura J. Downing entitled, ‘Against FocusP: arguments from Zulu’. Zulu is a Bantu language, and like many other Bantu languages, focused elements in Zulu occur in a position immediately after the verb to their right. This position is also called ‘Immediately After the Verb’ (IAV) position. The contributors point out that it is misleading to construe the IAV position as the specifier of a focused projection. Instead, they argue that the IAV effect is as a result of the interaction between independent prosodic and interpretive conditions because focused elements in Zulu remain in situ whenever dislocation of non-focused elements occurs.
Movement is neither triggered by information-structural features nor directly tied to them in German. This is the radical position of Gisbert Fanselow in Chapter Eleven, entitled, ‘Scrambling as formal movement’. The author is of the opinion that if constituents with a single information-structural function can be split up by A-bar movement, then the trigger of this movement must be sought elsewhere. This assertion is a rejection of the hypothesis that in German, givenness, an information-structural feature, triggers A-scrambling.
The contribution entitled, ‘Left-peripheral arguments and discourse interface strategies in Yucatec Maya’, is the final chapter of the book. The contributors, Stavros Skopeteas and Elisabeth Verhoeven, are able to show that in Yucatec Maya, there are two fronting strategies that are underspecified for information-structural effects. These fronting strategies correlate with information-structural functions as a result of the interaction of independent discourse principles with the properties of prosodic phrasing. They argue that a cartographic analysis is restrictive.
All eleven chapters that make up the two parts of this book are highly technical and well-researched. Indeed, the book is aimed at specialists in generative syntax and/or information structure. Post-graduate students and other linguists with more than a casual interest in syntax and information structure will also benefit immensely from the wealth of theoretical and empirical insights the book provides. This must have informed the wise decision of the editors to provide an exhaustive and comprehensive introduction to the book in the first chapter, in order to establish a foundation for understanding the book as it were.
The objectives of the book as outlined by the editors (p. 17) are all met. For example, Chapters Three, Four, Six and Seven clearly answer the question, ‘What are the primitives of information structure?’, while Chapters Nine and Eleven deal with the question, ‘What is the relation between phonology and information structure?’. Therefore, the book emerges with an outline of the theory of information structure based on interface conditions.
It is basically a cartographic approach to analyzing information structure (Rizzi 1997, 2004a&b) that all the contributors rejected in one way or another. For example, Büring’s Chapter Two, ‘Predicate integration: phrase structure or argument structure?’, is a complete departure from Rizzi’s cartographic approach. Instead, Büring draws a parallel between the asymmetry that verbs that follow their arguments are unaccented (Fuchs 1976, 1984; Jacobs 1992) and the fact that focused material is accented while background material is unaccented. This is a case of alignment between prosody and morphosyntax. Indeed, the different contributors to this book, given their different points of view, were able to bring new and exciting perspectives to the relationship between syntax and information structure, as just exemplified through reference to Büring.
The editors of the book could not have presented the various contributions any better, even though the contributions may appear rather daunting for a novice to follow. This is not a minus for the editors, but rather a commendable effort.
Fuchs, Anna. 1976. Normaler und kontrastiver akzent. Lingua 38. 293-312
Rizzi, Luigi. 1997. The fine structure of the left periphery. In Lillian Haegeman. (ed.),. Elements of Grammar. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Rizzi, Luigi. 2004a. Locality and the left periphery. In Andriana Balletti (ed.), The cartography of syntactic structures. Vol. 1, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rizzi, Luigi. (ed.). 2004b. The cartography of syntactic structures. Vol. 2: The structure of CP and IP. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Lengji N. Danjuma teaches linguistics in the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Jos, Nigeria. Presently, he is a PhD student in the Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, where his particular research interests include theoretical and African linguistics. The focus of his current research is ‘Move-alpha, TOP, and PRO within the Minimalist Program: A Cross-Linguistic Analysis of Ngas, Hausa, and Fulfulde’. He is also a 2012 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)/ African Humanities Program (AHP) dissertation completion fellow.