Subjects and complexity in the recent history of English
It has been argued that passivisation is a metainformative strategy: on activepassive variation in the recent history of English Ana E. Martnez-Insua ([email protected]) Javier Prez-Guerra ([email protected]) Language Variation and Textual Categorisation Research Unit University of Vigo MIC 2010 Interdisciplinary Conference Universit Paris-Sorbonne CELTA 18th November, 2010 Introduction Initial assumptions The notions of choice and optionality: (1)
(2) (1) (2) The same propositional meaning may be conveyed by a number of linguistic choices. No one-to-one correspondence between the informative and the meta-informative layers of language. Thematic systems System of voice: English constructions with agent and patient: Yourcenar wrote that novel in 1951 [unmarked] That novel was written in 1951 (by Yourcenar) [marked] Thematically unmarked: Global CA = notional subject/agent Thematically marked: Global CA = notional object/patient 2 Introduction Research topic: extraposition of passive clauses and insertion of dummy it in
matrix subject position (EX/itpassive) (3) People assumed that Yourcenar was the author of the novel (4) It was assumed that Yourcenar was the author of the novel Confluence of: Passive voice Subject-extraposition and subsequent compulsory itinsertion: Semantically empty global CA: Anonymous Subject (AS) it Semantically full local CA: extraposed subject Clausal local CA 3 Outline of the presentation
The notions of Passivisation and Diathesis The process of Extraposition The Thematic System and thematic markedness Working hypotheses: - The corpus and its analysis: diachronic increase of productivity discourse coherence and pragmatic
effects as triggering/favouring factors general distribution of examples study of their formal aspects study of their informative aspects study of their meta-informative aspects Conclusions Further research References 4 Passive voice and diathesis Passivisation and diathesis Diathesis: grammatical device used to present the same situation from different points of view (i.e. choosing this or that participant of the situation as global CA) (Wodarczyk & Wodarczyk 2006a:12) (1) Yourcenar wrote that novel in 1951 (2) That novel was written in 1951 (by Yourcenar) Active notional subject (Global CA) > Agent (Local CA) in passives Determining factors: the speakers communicative purposes discourse coherence However,
(7a) Mary has Yourcenars novel (7b) *Yourcenars novel is had (by Mary) 5 Extraposition Subject extraposition + it-insertion (EX/it): Deviation from the unmarked pattern of English declarative sentences: lexical subject + verb (Prez-Guerra 1999) Clausal active global CA Insertion of a dummy, expletive or pleonastic subject-filler: representative subject (Jespersen 1909-49: III,25), anticipatory it (Curme 1931:10; Quirk et al 1985) (3) That I finished the book has surprised my colleagues (4) It has surprised my colleagues that I finished the book (3) Thematically unmarked: (clausal) notional subject = Global CA (4) Thematically marked: (pronominal) anonymous subject (AS) = Global CA
6 Extraposition Subject extraposition + it-insertion (EX/it): [i]t is not a referring expression: it does not refer to an entity in the world, a person or an object (Haegeman 1994:62) It cannot be the answer to a question * It does not support emphatic reflexivisation (Postal & Pullum 1988) ** (4) What has surprised your colleagues? *It (has) (4) **It has itself surprised my colleagues that I finished the book
Statistical (un)markedness of EX/it: unlike in other thematic systems, markedness in the EX/it constructions does not imply statistical infrequency. The versions with extraposition (4) are preferred by speakers. EX/it is more easily recognised than non-EX/it (Hawkins 1994) 7 Thematic markedness Movement of the real notional subject from the global CA position into the postverbal local CA position The category functioning as global CA is semantically empty: In EX/it constructions addressees identify the global CA (i.e. the AS) in a very general way, merely as a participant or constituent of the situation which surely belongs to a class of entities (either +hum or hum) but without selecting any particular element of any of these classes
The informative value of the participant/constituent referred to as AS can, in turn, be recognised by the addressees only when they interpret the utterance as a whole 8 Working hypotheses The EX/it-passive construction progressively gained popularity and productivity throughout the history of English. Possible favouring factors for such an increase: the users search for discourse coherence the users search for certain pragmatic effects 9 Textual material and distribution of examples CORPUS PERIOD WORDS ppcme2
1770-1839 368,804 ppcmbe 1840-1914 281,327 948,895 Table 1: The corpus. Periods and word totals 10 Textual material and distribution of examples PERIOD EXAMPLES n/f (n.f./ 10,000 w)
ME (1150-1500) 95 0.87 EModE (1500-1710) 139 0.80 LModE (1710-1914) 331 3.49 Table 2: Frequency and distribution of the examples: raw figures and normalised frequency (n.f./10,000w) 11
Textual material and distribution of examples Graphic 1: Frequency and distribution of the examples 12 Distribution of examples Initial interpretations Relatively similar frequencies during the ME and EModE periods (slight decrease in EModE) (8) Than was it proclamed that a new parlement schuld begynne the next Munday aftir, and on Seint Edward day folowing schuld the king be corowned (CMCAPCHR,214.3832 ME) (9) And can it be thought, that he would let Cobham have so great a Sum? (RALEIGH-E2-H,I,209.C2.196 EModE) vs. Extraordinary increase in the productivity of the EX/it-passive construction during LModE period (10) In medicine, for example, it will not be contended that there is anything to be gained by classical scholarship. (BAIN1878,363.58)
13 Analysis of the examples (formal aspects) PERIOD # WORDS (MEAN) ME 19.42 EModE 15.33 LModE 20.30 Table 3: Weight of clausal local CAs (extraposed notional subjects) 14 Analysis of the examples
(formal aspects) Graphic 2: Weight of clausal local CAs (extraposed notional subjects) 15 Analysis of the examples (formal aspects) Default assumption: the principle of end-weight is the major explicandum of the EX/it-passive construction (Erdmann 1988, Bolinger 1992, Prez-Guerra 1999). Our data: as a corroboration of our first working hypothesis, extraposed global CAs (>local CAs) are longer than sentence initial global CAs (average: 10 words in ME, 9.6 in ModE and 11 in PDE, according to Prez-Guerra 1999) (11) It was ordeyned that a oxe fed with gresse schuld be seld for XVIs., a fatte oxe for XXIIIIs., a fatte cow for XIIs., a good swyn, to gere old, for XLd., a schep withouten wolle, XIIIId., a fat schep with wolle, XXd., a fat goos, IId.=obolo=, a capon, IId., a henne, Id., iiii dowes, Id.; (CMCAPCHR,140.3262) Explanation in terms of processing complexity/simplicity: EX/it-passive helps override the difficulty of processing heavy global CAs 16
Analysis of the examples (formal aspects) PERIOD AGENT % AGENTLESS % ME 2.95 97.05 EModE 7.69 92.30 LModE 5.12
94.88 Table 4: Agency/Agentlessness 17 Analysis of the examples (formal aspects) Graphic 3: Agency/agentlessness in EX/it-passive constructions 18 Analysis of the examples (formal aspects) Initial interpretations Overwhelming predominance of agentless EX/itpassive constructions Subsequent need for the (unknown) active global CA to be pragmatically recovered from the whole message (Seoane 1993) Pragmatic effects: complete deletion of the active global CA from the topical/thematic position and subsequent creation of a new topic for the message (Seoane 2009)
the presentation of a given constituent as the local CA of the message (the clausal local CA in these cases of EX+passive) is justified by its communicative saliency and the speakers choice to bring it into discourse as focus 19 Analysis of the examples (informative aspects) Referentiality of the clausal local CAs - Referring (near Walker, Joshi & Princes 1998 backwardlooking centres): a link back to an entity evoked earlier. Givenness/availability in the discourse domain (7 previous clauses) - Low-referring: semi-avilability in the discourse domain (12) Not long ago the coachman of an eminent London surgeon came to the author complaining of the 'rheumatism' of his left shoulder. On examining him, it was found that his left deltoid muscle was almost useless to him (POORE-1876,174.220) (13) master Robert haughtily bad him be silent and know himself , and not presume to contend with men so much his superiors in every respect (...) Master Robert was to be presented at court before his departure, and it was expected that he should be knighted (REEVE-1777,26.574) - Non-referring (close to Walker, Joshi & Princes 1998 forward-looking centres): newness/absence from the
discourse domain 20 Analysis of the examples (informative aspects) PERIOD % ME BACKWARDLOOKING (REFERRING) BACKWARDLOOKING (LOWREFERRING) FORWARDLOOKING (NONREFERRING) 31.8 22.9 45.1 EModE
29.73 43.24 27.02 LModE 33.33 48.72 17.95 Table 5: Informative potential of local CAs 21 Analysis of the examples (informative aspects) Graphic 4: Informative potential of local CAs 22 Analysis of the examples
(informative aspects) Maintenance of referring local CAs and steady increase of low-referring ones (22,9% > 48,72%): marked predominance of backward-looking extraposed local CAs Gradual decrease in the number of non-referring, forward-looking extraposed local CAs from ME to LModE (45,1% > 17,95%) So, While extraposed local CAs were informatively new in ME, data show the opposite situation for ModE Lack of adjustment of EX/it-passive constructions to the general principle of end-focus (Prez-Guerra 1999), as a restrictive variant of the given-before-new principle Consequently, the commonly accepted presentative function of the EX/it-passive construction is rendered moot 23 Analysis of the examples (meta-informative aspects) EX/it-passive constructions in compliance with the so-called Centering Rule 2 (Walker, Joshi & Prince 1998: 4): under certain discursive and contextual circumstances, EX/itpassive constructions become the preferred (or most coherent) transitions between utterances, requiring less
processing time than others and softening rough-shift transitions EX/it-passive constructions as a meta-informative (word-order) ordering strategy for placing heavy clausal constituents in the local CA position 24 Informative and metainformative aspects of EX/itpassive -Similar to other thematic systems (e.g. right dislocation -- Grosz & Ziv 1998): - The joint usage of a dummy subject filler (it) and a postverbal description serves to establish discourse coherence - The satisfaction of the discourse purpose of the construction contributes to the satisfaction of the overall communicative purpose of the discourse - EX/it-passive constructions help to organize the discourse: - -
either help to retrieve and refocus formerly centered constituents (referring and lowreferring CAs which may be currently not sufficiently salient) or help to override the difficulty of processing heavy global CAs 25 Conclusions The EX/it-passive construction tends to be optional. The mapping of a thought onto a certain structure is not always the only way of expressing such idea. The EX/it-passive construction is productive in all the periods analysed but its frequency increases remarkably in LModE. The EX/it-passive construction cannot be regarded as a meta-informative strategy for
accommodating informatively forward-looking CAs within a pattern which satisfies the communicative principles of given-before-new and end-focus. Quite the contrary, the principle of end-weight may be taken to account for the prototype of the EX/it-passive construction. Informatively speaking, the EX/it-passive construction as the preferred meta-informative transition strategy may require less processing time than others and soften rough-shift transitions (in terms of discourse coherence). 26 Questions for further research Study of the EX/it-passive construction paying attention to the variables text-type, style and genre Fine-grained analysis of the local CA of the EX/itpassive construction, studying and classifying
not only extraposed clauses (that-; whether/if-; wh-; infinitive-clauses), but also other types of extraposed constituents (NPs; PPs; others) Study of the possible occurrence of medial segments (post-verbal non-final constituents) and their informative and meta-informative consequences It was remarked by Mr. Lowe that the word 'aneurism,' to a Greek scholar, would be misleading (BAIN1878,375.251) Study of the passive verbs as well as their subcategorisation patterns (one- or twoargument EVPs) from the informative and metainformative perspectives 27 References
Bolinger, D. 1992. The role of accent in extraposition and focus. Studies in Language 16/2: 265-324. Curme G.O. 1931. Syntax. Vol. III of H. Kurath and G.O. Curme A grammar of the English Language. Boston: Heath. Erdmann, P. 1988. On the principle of weight in English. In C. Duncan-Rose and T. Vennemann eds. On language, rhetorica phonologica syntactica: a Festschrift for Robert P. Stockwell from his friends and colleagues, 325-339. London: Routledge. Grosz, B.J. and Y. Ziv. 1998. Centering, Global Focus, and right-dislocation. In M.A. Walker, A.K. Joshi and E.F. Prince eds. Centering theory in discourse, 293-307. Oxford: Clarendon. Haegeman, L. 1994. Introduction to Government & Binding theory. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell. Hawkins, J.A. 1994. A performance theory of order and constituency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jespersen, O. 1909-49. A modern English grammar on historical principles. Vols. I-VII. Heidelberg: Ejnar Munksgaard. Prez-Guerra, J. 1999. Historical English syntax: a statistical corpus-based study on the
organisation of Early Modern English sentences. Mnchen: Lincom Europa. Postal, P.M. and G.K. Pullum. 1988. Expletive noun phrases in subcategorized positions. Linguistic Inquiry 19/4: 635-70. Quirk, R., S. Greenbum, G. Leech and J. Svartvik. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman. Seoane-Posse, E. 1993. The passive in early Modern English. Atlantis XV/1-2: 191-213. Seoane-Posse, E. 2009. Syntactic complexity, discourse status and animacy as determinants of grammatical variation in Modern English. English Language and Linguistics 13/3: 365-384. Walker, M.A., A.K. Joshi and E.F. Prince. 1998. Centering in naturally occurring discourse: an overview. In M.A. Walker, A.K. Joshi and E.F. Prince eds. Centering theory in discourse, 1-28. Oxford: Clarendon. Wodarczyk, A. and H. Wodarczyk. 2006a. Subject in the Meta-Informative Centering theory. tudes cognitives / Studia kognitywne VII: 7-32. Wodarczyk, A. and H. Wodarczyk. 2006b. Focus in the Meta-Informative Centering theory. La Focalisation dans les langues. Paris: LHarmattan. It has been argued that passivisation is a metainformative strategy: on activepassive variation in the recent history of English Thank you! 29
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