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Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure -

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Introduction

The interaction of pragmatics and grammar happens on several levels and can potentially affect grammar in various ways, from determining word order and/or prosody, to shaping the entire morphological system. Since these interactions of information structure and morphosyntactic form differ from language to language, an important question arises: what are the co-occurrence patterns of these interactions? Are there constraints on the co-occurrence of these interactions? Starting from these research questions, the group will try to determine the role of information structure in explaining cross-linguistic differences in grammatical systems.

Another major task of the group is to investigate and re-evaluate the status of the information structure primitives (topic, focus, contrast, etc.) as cross-linguistically valid categories. To achieve this, the members of the group combine extensive corpus analysis of the data in their respective languages with production experiments; all findings are further cross-checked through standard information structure tests (question-answer pairs, aboutness tests, association with focus sensitive items).

On the left toolbar you can find our people page and also information on the various fieldsites that we are using to investigate our hypotheses on information structure.

Current Research

The members of the group are involved in describing the interaction of information structure, syntax, and semantics in understudied languages, and have all conducted extensive fieldwork in 2010/2011.

Van Valin is investigating information structure phenomena in a strictly head-marking language, Lakhota (Siouan), a language with a rich article system sensitive to information-structural distinctions, including three types of indefinite article (specific, non-specific, focus-contrastive).  The language appears to lack a presentational construction of the kind found in many other languages, and, in contrast to some of the other languages being investigated, it appears to use prosody alone to signal verb focus.

Hammond is working in Vanuatu and is investigating the reference tracking system and its discourse properties in two Oceanic languages, Whitesands and Aniwa. He has collected a large amount of natural discourse data as well as elicited materials. The focus of the research is on the grammatical and interactional properties of the switch-reference system known as Echo Subject.

Matić travels to Northern Siberia and Kamchatka in order to investigate Tundra Yukaghir (isolate) and Even (Tungusic). He is focusing on the complex interplay of information structure and illocution as the determining factors of the Tundra Yukaghir sentence structure, and on the system of contrastive morphemes and the tag-question based focus marking in Even.

The language studied by Van Putten, Avatime (Kwa, spoken in Ghana), has a rich system of syntactic and morphological means of marking information structure, including particles that indicate different kinds of contrast, left-detachment, fronting and tonal morphemes. Van Putten's work focuses on the fine-grained description of the semantics and pragmatics of these categories, based on a corpus of both elicited and natural data.

Last checked 2013-12-04 by Dejan Matic

Max Planck Institute
for Psycholinguistics


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