Topic, focus and bare nominals in Spanish

1997 1997

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Abstract (summary)

This study investigates the correlations between information structure and syntactic structure with particular reference to Spanish. After a detailed consideration of notions like "topic" and "focus" and several topicalizing and focusing mechanisms (such as Clitic left-dislocation, Pronominal left-dislocation, Topicalization, Right-dislocation and Focus Preposing), two different "topical" elements are distinguished: Sentence Topic (STopic) and Background. These elements do not co-occur and each of them combines with Focus to form two different articulations: STopic-Focus and Background-Focus. The STopic-Focus articulation is pragmatically, syntactically and phonologically unmarked both in English and Spanish. It can be uttered out-of-the-blue, it involves a preverbal subject, and it is expressed through unmarked rightmost focus-related accent. However, the Background-Focus articulation, which has very specific contextual restrictions, is marked syntactically in Spanish (by the left- or right-dislocation of Background elements) and phonologically in English (by non-rightmost marked focus-related accent).

From this point of view, information structure is closely correlated with syntactic structure in Spanish: STopics occupy a preverbal specifier position while Background elements occupy dislocated positions. This informational-syntactic correlation is accounted for as follows. So-called NP-movement is viewed as a topic-driven movement, which explains the contrast between topical preverbal subjects and focal postverbal subjects: only subjects with a Topic feature (an optional D feature) raise to the preverbal specifier position. The dislocated position of Background elements has to do with escaping the domain of projection of the focus feature. This explains the otherwise mysterious contrast between ungrammatical Bare Noun (BN) preverbal subjects and grammatical BN dislocated phrases (both considered to be topics up to now). BNs cannot reach the preverbal subject position, since this is a position only reached by DPs with a topic feature. However, they are allowed in adjoined, dislocated positions, since these positions can be occupied by any type and number of Background elements.

Thus, some of the differences between Spanish and English arise from the fact that the topic and focus features are syntactically active in Spanish, but only phonologically active in English.

Indexing (details)

Romance literature;
0290: Linguistics
0313: Romance literature
0291: Language
Identifier / keyword
Language, literature and linguistics; syntax
Topic, focus and bare nominals in Spanish
Casielles-Suarez, Eugenia
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 58/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780591475135, 0591475138
Zamora, Juan C.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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