On finiteness. In V. Van Geenhoven (Ed.
), Semantics in acquisition
(pp. 245-272). Dordrecht: Springer.
The distinction between finite and non-finite verb forms is well-established but not
particularly well-defined. It cannot just be a matter of verb morphology, because it is also made
when there is hardly any morphological difference: by far most English verb forms can be finite
as well as non-finite. More importantly, many structural phenomena are clearly associated with
the presence or absence of finiteness, a fact which is clearly reflected in the early stages of first
and second language acquisition. In syntax, these include basic word order rules, gapping, the
licensing of a grammatical subject and the licensing of expletives. In semantics, the specific
interpretation of indefinite noun phrases is crucially linked to the presence of a finite element.
These phenomena are surveyed, and it is argued that finiteness (a) links the descriptive content
of the sentence (the 'sentence basis') to its topic component (in particular, to its topic time), and
(b) it confines the illocutionary force to that topic component. In a declarative main clause, for
example, the assertion is confined to a particular time, the topic time. It is shown that most of the
syntactic and semantic effects connected to finiteness naturally follow from this assumption.