Topicalization

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bender
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Topicalization

Postby bender » 2005-05-13, 22:42

How common is topicalization in colloquial English?
By listening to the Strokes, I think it's very common! Does it sound very colloquial or is it used as well by educated people?

BARELY LEGAL
To me, my life, it don’t make sense

Those strange manners, I loved ‘em so

These little problems they’re not yours and mine

SOMEDAY
Promises, they break before they´re made

Tables, they turn sometimes

And now my fears, they come to me in threes

ALONE TOGETHER
Things, they have changed in such a permanent way

LAST NITE
See, people they don´t understand

No, girlfriends, they can´t understand

Your Grandsons, they won´t understand
Please correct me whenever I make a mistake. / Corrigez-moi toujours quand je ne parle pas bien. / Me corrijan siempre cuando hable mal.

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Postby JackFrost » 2005-05-14, 1:39

They sound too weird for me to hear or be said out of my mouth. I never saw such construction, perhaps only in poems so that the rhyming effect can be preserved.

I think it would be a little waste of time for us native speakers to repeat the subject twice when you don't have to.
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Postby Geist » 2005-05-14, 1:59

Very rare. As Jack said, this is almost exclusively poetic.
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Postby bender » 2005-05-15, 1:10

JackFrost wrote:I think it would be a little waste of time for us native speakers to repeat the subject twice when you don't have to.


Not necessarily a waste of time, since that's very common in French and in Brazilian Portuguese...

I thought it could be common in other languages, at least in colloquial speech...
Please correct me whenever I make a mistake. / Corrigez-moi toujours quand je ne parle pas bien. / Me corrijan siempre cuando hable mal.

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Postby Pittsboy » 2005-05-15, 3:19

All Germanic languages with the exception of English are subject to the Verb-second-constraint (=V2), as is well known (e.g. Vikner 1995).

English lost V2 during the Middle English period. In other words: examples like (2a) are after a certain time ungrammatical and are replaced by examples like (2b), whereas sentences like (1) are unaffected.

(1)John likes beans.
(2)
a. Beans likes John.
b. Beans John likes.

At the same time another development takes place: The rate of topicalization, i.e. the fronting of any constituent other than the subject, declines also:

In the period 1150-1250, 11.7% (575of 4913) of sentences with direct object have the object fronted, in the period 1640-1710, only3.6% (128 of 3541). This latter development has not generally been noticed in the literature.

The question arises whether the loss of V2 and the decline of topicalization are related to each other. In my paper I argue that they indeed are related and that, given the loss of V2 inEnglish, the decline of topicalization is a consequence of a prosodic constraint common to at least all Germanic languages.

This constraint, which we might call ‘Trochaic Requirement’ (=TR), is a reflex of the Obligatory Contour Principle (Goldsmith 1976), which requires that adjacent units differ infeature content, in the domain of prosody: Between two phrasal accents a prosodically weakelement must intervene.

Topicalization involves fronting of a constituent which meets certain pragmatic requirements (see Prince 1999). The topicalized phrase is accented, as is another phrase inside the open proposition (i.e. the remainder of the sentence), viz. the variable of the open proposition. In principle, these two accents could wind up adjacent to one another, which would violate the Trochaic Requirement.

The sentences in (3) illustrate how discourse context determines accentuation.

(3) a. John doesn’t like peas, but beans John likes.
b. John is eating peas today, but beans John ate yesterday.

Now consider example (4).

(4) Mary likes peas. Beans, John likes.

Here the variable of the open proposition is the subject, as is most often the case. Since sentences like the 2nd of (4) violate the TR, they are disfavoured. As long as V2 was still an option, the problem could be resolved by inverting the subject and the verb (= 2a). As V2 becomes impossible, topicalizing leads in many cases to a violation of the TR and isconsequently avoided too.

I came to these results by conducting a quantitative study using Corpus Search on all available parts of the Penn-Helsinki Corpora of Middle and Early Modern English (1150-1710). Only sentences with a full noun phrase subject and a non-auxiliary verb were taken into account (32749 sentences with direct object; 1780 thereof with topicalization, 585 thereof with full-NP-subject). The accent on the open proposition was assigned manually, using an algorithmexperimentally tested for modern English.

References:

Goldsmith, John A. (1976) Autosegmental Phonology. Doctoral dissertation, MIT (published1979, New York/London: Garland).

Prince, Ellen (1999) “How Not to Mark Topics: ‘Topicalization’ in English and Yiddish,” in:Texas Linguistics Forum. Ch. 8. Austin: University of Texas.

Vikner, Sten (1995) Verb Movement and Expletive Subjects in the Germanic Languages,Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press.

Source: http://www.ling.upenn.edu/NWAVE/abs-pdf/speyer.pdf.
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Postby Stan » 2005-05-15, 15:10

I think Yoda talks like that. :lol:

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Postby JackFrost » 2005-05-15, 18:03

Stancel wrote:I think Yoda talks like that. :lol:

Actually, he kind of.

"Leave, they must" for "They must leave." ;)

bender wrote:
JackFrost wrote:I think it would be a little waste of time for us native speakers to repeat the subject twice when you don't have to.

Not necessarily a waste of time, since that's very common in French and in Brazilian Portuguese...

I thought it could be common in other languages, at least in colloquial speech...

I meant for English. ;)
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Postby bender » 2005-05-17, 2:09

JackFrost wrote:
bender wrote:
JackFrost wrote:I think it would be a little waste of time for us native speakers to repeat the subject twice when you don't have to.

Not necessarily a waste of time, since that's very common in French and in Brazilian Portuguese...

I thought it could be common in other languages, at least in colloquial speech...

I meant for English. ;)


Yes, I know. But why would it be a waste of time for English speakers and not for French or Brazilian ones? What I mean is that it's not a matter of wasting time. English does not have it as often as French or Brazilian Portuguese because the it works like this... Anyway, this is just an unworthy remark... :P
Please correct me whenever I make a mistake. / Corrigez-moi toujours quand je ne parle pas bien. / Me corrijan siempre cuando hable mal.

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Postby JackFrost » 2005-05-17, 2:51

Because...because...I just feel like it, ok? :P

I do admit I do that sometimes in French. :oops:
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Postby bluechiron » 2005-05-17, 3:29

You know, I do this a lot as a native English speaker. It could come from the fact that I use romance languages quite frequently (and have for a long time) or the fact that my family doesn't use anything close to standard English--we have our own form that uses different grammar and syntax. We speak kitten too. :P
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