On Subject /í-extrapositions: Evidence from Present-Day English - PDF

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Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 10 (1997): On Subject /í-extrapositions: Evidence from Present-Day English María Ángeles Gómez-González Universidad de Santiago de Compostela ABSTRACT This

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Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 10 (1997): On Subject /í-extrapositions: Evidence from Present-Day English María Ángeles Gómez-González Universidad de Santiago de Compostela ABSTRACT This paper reports some results from a bigger project analysing the relevance of Theme, i.e. clause initial position, in Present-day English (PresE). Our aim is to explore the formal features, the communicative properties and the frequencies of one thematic device, /í-extrapositions of the type It is strange that the dulce gave my aunt that teapot, in the Lancaster Spoken English Corpus (henceforth LSEC). 105 tokens of these constructions were studied, which represented 2.6% of the overall Themes in LSEC. It is argued that the use of /f-extrapositions obeys three different, though interrelated, phenomena: (i) the principie of End Weight; (ii) the Given-Bef ore- New principie; and (iii) Theme. As a conclusión, it is suggested that the raison d'etre of this device is to act in two capacities: (1) an objective one, expressing an 'objectified', or depersonalised, modality or modulation, and (2) a subjective one, infusing the speaker's angle, or point of view, with thematic highlighting.' 1. Formal structure of /í-extrapositions Unmarked It-extrapositions 1 move a rankshifted nominal clause out of Subject position in the Head clause to the right of its predicate, replacing it with the dummy pronoun it. As a result, the main clause, with It as its Subject Themel (i.e. initial constituent of the initial clause in a clause complex), becomes the Themel (initial clause in a clause complex) of 96 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses the whole clause complex and the extraposed clause its Rhemel (final clause in a clause complex), as illustrated in (1) below (cf. Huddleston 451-2; McCawley 95; Collins, 2): It is strangethat the duke gave my aunt that teapot Theme2Rheme2 Theme2 Rheme2 Themel Rhemel In some cases the extraposition is obligatory as in constructions with it is a fact or when the extraposed clause itself contains a subordínate clause and the type of subordination is the same at both levéis (e.g. *To avoid the speculation thatfor Richard Gardiner Casey to approve his son 's wish to serve in what was expected to be a short war while using his own influence to minimise the dangers to be faced by his son would have been in character is difficult, Collins ibid.). But, on other occasions, extrapositions are blocked by grammatical factors, such as, for example, when a dominant predícate contains a subordínate clause or an identified predícate Complement. Likewise, under certain restrictive conditions extrapositions may involve the shifting of units other than nominal clauses, such as prepositional phrases or noun phrases containing the and a restrictive relative clause (e.g. It's astonishing the dedication he shows; it appalled us the way he spoke to his wife, in response to What a lot of dedication he shows; How (rudely) he spoke to his wife, cf. e.g. Collins 16 Footnote 3; McCawley, 96). These marginal cases were not considered in this study for the sake of simplicity. The same applied to extrapositions like (2) below, moving a constituent out of Object position over another Complement in the Head clause replacing it with the dummy it, which were disregarded in this analysis on the assumption that they affect the Rheme, rather than the Theme, of Head clauses in clause complexes. (2) v IsraeI was making it a^bundantly v clear to wards the end of the week that the re maining Shi'ites / were to be re/eased s anyway not as any conse quence ofthe 'hijack / but ^purely as a function ofthe lev el of/rouble / in _South xlebanon (SECA07: 044) It is also necessary at this stage to differentiate the phenomenon of extraposition from three superficially similar clausal structures: (i) impersonal sequences having neutral it as Subject Theme such as It was getting dark (SECAPT04: 072), It is now ten past eight (SECBPT02: 205); (ii) identifying constructions having a generic anaphoric it as Subject ID/VL (Identified/Value) such as e.g. It could have been an outsider (SECJPT03: 023); (iii) right-dislocations, where, typically, anp is shifted outside, and to the right of, the main clause, and where the pronoun it, if present, is referential (cataphoric), in contrast with its non-referential anticipatory nature in the extraposed construction (e.g. It is nice the rose). On Subject It-Extrapositions: Evidence from Present-Day English 97 The first two cases were here regarded as constructions with unmarked Themes that place within their Rhemes, the unmarked locus of focal stress, the information which is 'newsworthy'. By contrast, right-dislocations and extrapositions were treated as instances of Special Themes, because both imply a process of substitution of the Theme and its shifting to the right of the main predicator. Admittedly, the identificational criteria of extrapositions, i.e. substitution of Theme by a dummy element and right-shifting and rankshifting of a nominal clause, do not suffice to differentiate all instances of this type of Special Theme construction from right dislocations. Firstly, they apply to prototypes only. Secondly, extraposed clauses exhibit varying degrees of nominalisation. And thirdly, in a given context, the status of an introductory it, i.e. whether referential or not, may be ambivalent -especially given the fact that the primary function of dislocations is to disambiguate this ambivalence. This would leave us only with the criterion of prosody, whereby prototypical right-dislocated clauses would be expected to be spoken with a compound intonation Nucleus and extrapositions to have a simple Nucleus. However, in practice, this difference is again anything but clear-cut, for in many tokens of Subject extrapositions there is a tone group boundary separating the Head from the extraposed clause (see Quirk et al. 1985: 1393). With these provisos, Subject extraposition were here considered as a special type of Theme construction in its own right, deserving a corpus-based analysis. 105 tokens were found in the Lancaster Spoken English Corpus (LSEC), a machine-readable corpus comprising 49,285 words broken down into ten textual categories of spoken PresBE (see Table 1 below): (i) Commentary (A); (ii) News broadcast (B); (iii) Lecture Type I -aimed at a general audience (C); (iv) Lecture Type II -aimed at restricted audience (D); (v) Religious broadcast (E); (vi) Magazine style reporting (F); (vii) Fiction (G); (viii) Poetry (H); (ix) Dialogue (J); (x) Propaganda (K). 3 Table 1 SEC Corpus (49,285 words) TEXT CATEGORY DATE LENGTH min: see. # SPEAKERS # WORDS % WORDS A01-A12 Commentary : ,066 18,4 B01-B04 News Broadcasts : ,235 10,6 COI Lecture Type I general audience :00 1 4,471 9,1 D01-D03 Lecture Type II Open University Audience 57:00 3 7,451 15,1 E01-E02 Religious Broadcast : ,503 3,1 98 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses F01-F04 Magazine-style reporting : ,710 9,6 G01-G05 Fiction :25 5 7,299 14,8 H01-H05 Poetry :00 5 1,292 2,6 J01-J06 Dialogue : ,826 13,8 K01-K02 Propaganda :41 2 1,432 2,9 In LSEC /í-extrapositions typically right-shifted finite nominal íteí-clauses (54%), of which 93% were declaratives with or without that (e.g. (3: i, ii)) and a minority interrogatives (e.g. (3: iii)). (3) (i) he's [Arafat] is seeking take the boldest move of his ^life and his de v cision seems to be going down vwell with his con stituency at Wge if v not with all the _groups wi_thin the PL^O like at v all party conferences round the vworld there's apar ticular_atmosphere of cama,rade rie butit does seem that v this meeting J vis J a Jittle bit vspecial (SECAPT02: 035) (ii) x well they v searched me of ^course I Vlidn't have any 'weapons [ just a ^camera 'Tit's funny they let me v keep it (SECBPT03: 026) (iii) or could it pe that when you look back at the sporting _year v etched in v delibly on your memory willbethe frighteningly dra matic smoment when Nigel Mansell's Hyre burst at 200 miles an \hour to de v ny him the World _Motor Racing ^Championship or those _classic en^counters be tween Dancing'Brave and ShahraWní (SECJ01: ) In their turn, rightshifted non-finite infinitival clauses, generally introduced by to (96%) (e.g. (4: i)) and occasionally byfor (4%) (e.g. (4: ii)), 4 or gerundial clauses (e.g. (5)) were more peripheral than finite ones (39% and 7%, respectively): (4) (i) [ and it is \ery x difficult to work under conmitions like v that when the ^temperature's what _fifty degrees 'centigrade sometimes (SECJPT06: 228) (ii) well v as it worked v out in fact ^they didn't pay them v selves it was the v company that they Wrked for you see v they worked at the Hotel vhilton and it was \n their interests for them to v learn English [ so the ^company v sponsored them [ to _come and have Jessons with vme vso I (SECJ06: 102) (5) j it's W a bit of v good Woching a v bout and v moaning and saying A this vweather what a vclimate A and so on this is T (SECGPT05: 009) On Subject It-Extrapositions: Evidence from Present-Day English 99 The percentages given above suggest that, as reported by Collins (1994: 11), nominal finite and infinitival clauses extrapose more freely than gerundials. The fact that, like noun phrases, -ing clauses were generally resistant to being extraposed, confirms that the latter are more highly nominalised than finite or infinitival clauses (they also invert more readily with the operator in interrogatives and can take a possessive expression as a Subject). Quirk et al. (1393) claim that gerundial extraposed clauses are uncommon outside informal speech and Huddleston (452) remarks that they are more acceptable when both the -ing clause and the matrix clause are relatively short. Our results confirmed Huddleston's hypothesis since the lexical density, i.e. proportion of content words, of the Themes and Rhemes of extrapositions in LSEC was 3.5-7, respectively. As to the matrix predicate of extraposed constructions in LSEC, it normally showed the Subject-Predicator-Subject Complement pattern (71%), with the Complement most commonly realised as an adjectival phrase (54%) as in (6: i), and less often as a noun phrase (37%) as in (6: ii) or as an adverbial phrase (9%) as (6: iii). (6) (i) [change of speaker: Kevin Geary] 'well our re'view j is almost complete,now J butit's reaüy / only right and-proper j that the oíd year [ should go _out with a Vng and heavyweight 'boxing j (SECFPT04: 286) (ii) it's a v useful re minder that v some scientists fínd _Don 'Cupitt unscien v tific the de bate j goes von (SECAPT01: 77) (iii) it was e~nough to ex pose the ^crisis in the Velevance of Wt j -Ihow'ever Dada did put _forward _some positive pro^posals j (SECDPT1: 119) The second most common type of extraposed pattern in LSEC (20%) was Subject- Predicator (the predicator being passive (6.7%) or active (93.3%), e.g. (7: i, ii) respectively), the latter being occasionally modified by an Adjunct. (7) (i) Tz'í'í x been widely su v ggested here j that the great im v balance in v this ex change míght have ^prompted the Beirut ^hijackers into v thinking they could vforce Israel into re/leasing _more Arab ^prisoners (SECPT04: 041) (ii) peastern block Hnfluence in v side UNESCO is now too x great ithe _government be heves and re^form from in side is inrpossible so it \eems the widespread v pressure to stay in has been re^sisted j (SECBPT03: 087) In this type non-extraposed counterparts are normally not available ( IThat the great imbalance in this exchange might have prompted the Beirut hijackers into thinking they could forcé Israel into releasing more Arab prisoners has been widely suggested; *That widespread pressure to stay in has been resisted seems). The third pattern was Subject- Predicator-Object/Complement ((5%), e.g. (8) where a Range is acting as Complement) and the fourth is Subject-Predicator-Indirect Object (Direct Object) (Agent) ((3%), e.g. (9)). (8)! the Nova Park E v lysee in Taris costs three /thousand nine hundred _pounds [ a vday \vhereas it v only costs six hundred and fifteen Vdollars a day \ to 100 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses stay in the Vorld's most ex pensive v hospital needless to say in California (SECFPT03: 079) (9) it was \hen pointed v out to the officer \ by a vfrench journalist \ that the Afgerian vwar was lost in ^Paris W in Al v giers (SECAPT09: 075) Two reasons suggest themselves for the infrequency of these last two types of extrapositions. First, the matrix predicates displaying pattems three and four were often, though not always (e.g. costs in (8) above), of a dynamic, rather than of a stative, nature, and so they were more likely to favour animate non-verbal Subjects than clausal (especially finite) ones, the latter being the typical Subject of Zí-Subject Extrapositions. The second reason was the effect of the principies of end Weight and/or end Focus. The predicates associated with these two patterns, i.e. material or verbal, were normally 'heavier' and more informative than those in the first two patterns, i.e. relational or mental, and therefore the pressure for extraposition was weaker. Finally, moving on to the extraposed clause itself, as already mentioned earlier in this section, it always acted as the Subject of the main clause and so collaborated to display an unmarked mood pattern in prototypical extrapositions. However, there were some peripheral instances of marked Subject extrapositions in LSEC (10.5%), i.e. extrapositions with fronted Themes, that is to say, constituents that were preposed to clause initial position by a process oífronting, which thereby: (i) were explicitly foregrounded as a point of departure for the message; (ii) added some sort of contrast; and (iii) were frequently marked off by being spoken on a sepárate tone group (cf. Halliday 1967,1994). In some cases extrapositions with fronted Themes resulted from the presence of a Beta Theme (i.e. a Dependent clause preceding the Head clause of the extraposed construction), as in (10: i) (33%), or from the fronting of an Adjunct before the dummy Subject It (67%), as in (10: ii), where neither, at the same time, triggers the phenomenon of Subject/Process inversión: (10) (i) [ but al\ though Fine jgael and JLabour \ v have lost ground to the oppo sition it's ^ far from xclear that _Fianna Fail would ^sweep the vboard if it were _called towrrow (SECBPT02: ) (ii) neither in Hong /Kong ñor anywhere \lse \ does it make _sense to v specify asan aimof/policy onthe/basisof soap-ope,ratic intu,ition a/lone [ a particular /ratioofdo mestic pro duction to total con^sumption (SECCPT01: 240-3) 2. Discourse function of/í-extrapositions In what follows it will be argued that the discourse motivation of Zf-extrapositions obeys three different, though interrelated, phenomena: (i) the principie of end Weight; (ii) the Given-Before-New principie; and (iii) Theme. The first two explain the end-positioning of material in extraposition, while the last one accounts for its initialisation. The fact that in PresE Subject clauses tend to be moved to the right reflects two things: On Subject It-Extrapositions: Evidence from Present-Day English 101 (i) a strong tendency to avoid long units at the beginning of clauses (i.e. end Weight principie); (ii)a preference for the 'Given-before-New' ordering of information (i.e. end Focus principie). My findings in LSEC provided support to posit the End-Weight Principie and its concomitants, end Focus and ease of information processing, as explanatory in cases of /f-extrapositions, in that: (i) extraposed clauses tended, to be 'heavier' (i.e. have a higher lexical density, cf. Francis 1989, Collins 1984) than dominant predicates (8.6 vs. 3.6); (ii) there was a more even distribution of weight between the rankshifted and the dominant predícate in non-extraposed sentences; (iii) dominant predicates were generally heavier in non-extraposed than in extraposed constractions; (iv) English disfavours clauses with clausal Subject in initial position followed by a comparatively light matrix predicate. In addition to the principie of end Weight, extrapositions in LSEC reflected a Givenbefore-New array of information. For, informatively speaking, in most cases the newsworthy bit of information was placed in the extraposed clause, that is, within the Rhemel of the clause complex and thus was marked as New, getting unmarked focal stress. Witness in this respect (11) below: (11) it's quite 'likely that a^nother oíd timer the Prime 'Minister Mr ^Tikhanov will re_tire,soon and be refaced by a young 'technocrat Twith the _Gorbachev Nstyle the ^phrase that vstruck me with v most force in his recent 'speech was \vhen he was talking a bout the need for a psycho v logical change from _top to vbottom in _Soviet so^ciety and he v pushed this thought a gain this week j when he 'called the heads of all the state v media organi c sations in for a \ ep talk j it was N their v job he said to ex v pose in^adequacies in the 'system by changing _people's per^ceptions (SECAPT11: ) In (11) above the thematic matrix clause 'it's quite likely' is informatively poor as compared with the information coded in the rhematic extraposed clause, where it is announced that the current Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Tikhanov (expressed by a definite proper noun whose referent is contextually inferrable), may be replaced by a young technocrat, who is presented as New (indefinite expression with focal stress) and whose referent was up to that point in discourse New, to become Topic over the subsequent discourse span. In contrast, when the Theme2-Rheme2 pattern of a Subject rankshifted clause in a clause complex encodes recoverable information the tendency is for it to remain in initial position, rather than to be extraposed to the rhematic slot. Importantly enough, however, it seems to me that the newness of extraposed clauses does not reside in the individual informative status of one particular constituent, but rather in 102 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses the structure itself, that is to say, in the predicative link established between the Themel and the Rhemel of the construct. This link usually conveys unrecoverable, or new, information, while the referents of the participants and circumstances of extrapositions themselves are often presented as recoverable (i.e. realised by definite, deictic or pronominal forms, especially in infinitival clauses). It only remains to analyse the discourse relevance, if any, of the thematic matrix clause in Subject extrapositions. My findings in LSEC confirmed once more Halliday's (1994: ) prediction that Subject extrapositions code some sort of interpersonal meaning. The clausal Theme of Subject extrapositions in LSEC had the communicative effect of enabling speakers to express an 'objectified', or depersonalised, modality or modulation (they were introduced by impersonal it) on the ensuing Rheme and/or discourse. Indeed, LSEC speakers chose extrapositions in two capacities: (i)in 15% of all cases, to project some meaning or wording in order to avoid an unqualified claim (e.g. it seems that...) or to ascribe to an unspecified source the responsibility for an assertion (e.g. it is said that...); (ii)in the remaining 85%, to thematise their angle, or point of view, along different valúes of typically modality (in (a) below) or less commonly of modulation (in (b) below), as illustrated below: (a) modality (57%), when assessing the likelihood or usuality of an event or when predicating the ease or difficulty of an action, as in: (1) ± possible (32%): (12) the v students will have Wo months off in the Wmmer [ Tbut the Wms are just Veally too Hong by the Hime you hit TVnid term after about the tenth or e leventh week the v students are Veally at an v all-time How and it's \ery x difficult to Vnotivate them v into into judies a gain (SECJP
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