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Review of It-extraposition and Non-extraposition in English
Date: Thu, 12 May 2005 12:18:34 +0200 From: Marcus Callies Subject: It-extraposition and Non-extraposition in English
AUTHOR: Kaltenböck, Gunther TITLE: It-extraposition and Non-extraposition in English SUBTITLE: A study of syntax in spoken and written texts SERIES: Austrian Studies in English, Vol 90 PUBLISHER: Wilhelm Braumüller YEAR: 2004
Marcus Callies, Department of English, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany
OVERVIEW The present book offers a corpus-based description of the formal syntactic and discourse-functional characteristics of it- and non-extraposition in contemporary British English on the basis of material taken from the British component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB). Its aim is to provide "a detailed account of the communicative properties of it- extraposition and non-extraposition"(p.2) by means of both a quantitative statistical and close qualitative textlinguistic analysis.
Chapter 1 consists of the introduction, which outlines the scope and structure of the book, advocates the corpus-linguistic approach of the investigation, and sketches the make-up and characteristics of the database. Chapter 2 summarizes previous descriptive-functional, transformational and corpus-based research on extraposition, while chapter 3 provides the necessary terminological and conceptual framework, delimiting it-extraposition from related constructions (right-dislocation, it-clefting, tough-movement) and non-extraposition. Chapter 4 outlines the formal characteristics of both object- and subject-it-extraposition (and non-extraposition) and discusses the various subtypes of finite (that- and wh-clause) and non-finite subordinate clauses (to-, for/to—infinitives and -ing-clause) that typically occur. Kaltenböck also pays attention to frequent combination patterns with different types of syntactic and semantic categories of the matrix predicates.
Chapter 5 discusses the discourse-functional properties of it- and non- extraposition. In finding explanations for the question what determines the choice of either structural variant in texts, Kaltenböck draws on the concepts of information status (given and new information), thematic structure and syntactic weight. Using a slightly modified version of Prince's (1981, 1992) taxonomy of assumed familiarity and her distinction between discourse-old/discourse-new information and hearer-old/hearer-new information, he distinguishes between two basic informational types of it- and non-extraposition, whose formal and functional properties are further analyzed and discussed in the subsequent sections.
Chapter 6 discusses syntactic, semantic, and register factors that influence the choice of non-extraposition. Chapter 7 consists of a brief summary and conclusion. The volume is rounded off by a bibliography and a subject index.
CRITICAL EVALUATION The book presents an in-depth descriptive analysis of it- and non- extraposition in a wide range of different text types, offering extensive quantitative data. Its focus being a discourse-functional description and explanation of the occurrence of the two structural variants, the volume provides a detailed investigation of their respective communicative functions in spoken and written texts, using a wealth of naturally- occurring examples. Kaltenböck's study confirms and advances both the formal syntactic and discourse-functional characteristics of it- and non- extraposition that have been identified in previous research. Thus, he shows that despite their close structural and semantic relationship, the two variants behave quite differently and are usually not exchangeable.
The investigation yields detailed statistical results for the occurrence of two variants according to the type of extraposed subject/object clause. These frequency counts show that object-extraposition can be considered a marginal phenomenon, since it is clearly outnumbered by subject- extraposition (p.65). As for subject-extraposition, it-extraposition predominates over non-extraposition in that-clauses, the for/to- construction and the to-infinitive (cf. Erdmann 1988:330f. and 1990:135). Wh-clauses show no clear preference for either structural variant, because it- and non-extraposition are almost evenly distributed (p.125). By contrast, -ing-clauses strongly disprefer extraposition (p.152), which is in line with earlier findings that gerund-participles extrapose less readily and generally than content clauses and infinitivals. Extraposed - ing-clauses appear to be uncommon except in informal speech, and are of dubious acceptance in comparison to extraposed infinitivals and the basic forms (Ward, Birner and Huddleston 2002:1407).
Thus, despite the fact that the variants with a clausal subject/object are sometimes claimed to be the syntactically more basic ones since they are simpler and exhibit canonical word order, it is in fact the extraposed variants which are much more frequent. Consequently, as Kaltenböck argues - drawing on Givóns (1995) criteria for markedness - they should be considered as the statistically unmarked counterparts (cf. also Mair 1990:29; Biber et al. 1999:676,725), because they reflect the general preference for light subjects in English (Mair 1990:40).
As for spoken and written English, the results demonstrate that while it- extraposition is clearly preferred over non-extraposition in both modes (90.2% in spoken, 87.5% in written English), non-extraposition is more likely to occur in writing, for the written subcorpus contains almost twice as many such instances as the spoken part (79 vs. 138 instances). Regarding the different types of non-extraposed clauses, Kaltenböck observes that only non-extraposed wh-clauses are almost equally distributed in both modes (48.8% in the spoken vs. 51.2% in the spoken part), whereas with all other types he finds that their non-extraposed variants predominate in writing (70.6% for to-infinitivals, 62.5% for -ing- clauses and even 100% for that-clauses).
Ward, Birner and Huddleston (2002:1403-1408) have demonstrated that the (in-)felicity of non-extraposed clauses is best explained in terms of three interacting factors: context, syntactic weight and processability, none of which alone can explain the preference/occurrence of one or the other construction. Similarly, Biber et al. (1999:676ff.,724ff.; see also Mair 1990:32-40 for a similar account) have argued that four grammatical and discourse factors influence the preference for the non-extraposed over the extraposed variant: register, information structure, grammatical complexity, and topic and personal style. Kaltenböck's study confirms these assumptions that it is in fact a conspiracy of several formal syntactic and discourse-functional factors that determine the choice among it- or non-extraposition.
As for the information status of either variant, the author distinguishes between two basic informational types of it-extraposition and non- extraposition, respectively: for it-extraposition, there is type I which contains an extraposed clause with given, contextually retrievable information (either directly or via inferences), and type II, whose extraposed clause consists of new, brand-new or new-anchored information (p.181). Similarly, non-extraposition occurs with two types of clausal subjects: type I contains given, contextually retrievable information, and type II consists of new information (p.251). Kaltenböck's analysis clearly shows that non-extraposed subject clauses predominantly contain retrievable information (174 out of 217 instances, 80.2%), whereas extraposed clausal subjects largely consist of new information (1217 out of 1701 instances, 71.5%; p.181,251). Similar findings have been reported by Biber et al. (1999:677,725), Miller (2001), and Ward, Birner and Huddleston (2002:1404f.).
The author also demonstrates that syntactic weight plays a major role in the choice between it- and non-extraposition, which means that it is a construction that strongly interacts with the principle of end-weight in English. In it-extraposition, the extraposed clause is on average three times longer (measured in number of words) than its matrix clause, in both speaking and writing (p.206f.). By contrast, in non-extraposition the matrix and the subordinate clause are much more balanced in terms of weight distribution. Kaltenböck's findings reveal that their average length is identical (p.263). However, there is a noticeable difference between the spoken and written mode: in writing, the clausal subject is in fact longer than the matrix clause. For explanation, Kaltenböck argues that processing factors are more immediately relevant in speaking than writing, and that the occurrence of unusually long subject clauses, which runs counter to the end-weight principle, is outweighed by the fact that they serve a specific communicative effect. The author concludes that weight distribution may only be of limited importance for the occurrence non-extraposition and can be overridden by other factors such as felicitous information distribution (given vs. new) and more specific communicative functions (p.265). This is an interesting finding in view of the fact that to explain and predict the rare occurrence of heavy clausal subjects, previous accounts have predominantly drawn on weight distribution and processing factors, both of which are likely to facilitate comprehension by reducing and simplifying unnecessarily complex and informationally packed subjects (Erdmann 1988:337f.; Ward, Birner and Huddleston 2002:1403,1405).
In sum, this is an impressive and very detailed study with a large amount of very valuable data from a researcher who has already published on this syntactic phenomenon (Kaltenböck 2000, 2003). His study convincingly demonstrates that extraposition is a prime example for the interaction of the structural and discourse-pragmatic dimensions of information structure: sentence position, information status, and syntactic weight. It allows for an information-structural organization where both structural and textual requirements are fulfilled.
REFERENCES Biber, Douglas et al., eds. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Longman.
Erdmann, Peter (1988) "On the Principle of 'Weight' in English", in Duncan- Rose, Caroline and Theo Vennemann (eds.), On Language: Rhetorica, Phonologica, Syntactica. Festschrift for Robert P. Stockwell from His Friends & Colleagues. London: Routledge, 325-339.
Erdmann, Peter (1990) Discourse and Grammar: Focusing and Defocusing in English. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Givón, Talmy (1995) Functionalism and Grammar. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Kaltenböck, Gunther (2000) "It-Extraposition and Non-Extraposition in English Discourse", in Mair, Christian and Marianne Hundt (eds.) Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory. Papers from the Twentieth International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME 20), Freiburg im Breisgau 1999. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 157-175.
Kaltenböck, Gunther (2003) "On the Syntactic and Semantic Status of Anticipatory It", English Language and Linguistics 7:2, 235-255.
Mair, Christian (1990) Infinitival Complement Clauses in English. A Study of Syntax in Discourse. Cambridge: CUP.
Miller, Philip H. (2001) "Discourse Constraints on (Non)Extraposition from Subject in English", Linguistics 39:4, 683-701.
Prince, Ellen F. (1981) "Toward a taxonomy of given/new information", in Cole, Peter (ed.), Radical Pragmatics, New York: Academic Press, 223-255.
Prince, Ellen F. (1992) "The ZPG letter: subjects, definiteness, and information-status", in Thompson, Sandra and W. Mann (eds.), Discourse Description: Diverse Analyses of a Fund Raising Text, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 295-325.
Ward, Gregory, Betty Birner and Rodney Huddleston (2002) "Information packaging", in Huddleston, Rodney and Geoffrey K. Pullum (eds.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge: CUP, 1363-1443.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Marcus Callies is a junior lecturer and doctoral candidate in English Linguistics at Philipps-University Marburg, Germany. He teaches undergraduate courses in English Linguistics for teacher, BA and MA students, such as an introductory linguistics class and seminars on methods of linguistic description, phonology, morphology, semantics and syntax. His main research interests are contrastive linguistics (German- English) and second language acquisition (with a focus on discourse- functional aspects of learner language and interlanguage pragmatics).