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11.2.2. Topic drop
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The notions topic and comment are used in the semantic description of sentences: the topic of a sentence is the entity about which something is said, while the further statement made about this entity is the comment; cf. Crystal (1991). The topic-comment division may coincide with the subject-predicate division, but this is not necessarily the case. In the question-answer pair in (34), for instance, the topicalized object pronoun die'that' refers to the topic. The term topic drop refers to the fact that such topics can be omitted if certain conditions are met. In (34), this results in a V1-structure; cf. Jansen (1981:ch.5). We will argue this to be a phonetic phenomenon: despite being not pronounced, the pronoun is syntactically present.

Example 34
a. Weet jij waar Jan is?
  know  you  where  Jan  is
  'Do you know where Jan is?'
b. Nee, (diei) heb ik ti niet gezien?
  no   that  have  not  seen
  'No, I havenʼt seen him.'

Topic drop requires that the reference of the topic can be reconstructed from the context (which is known as the recoverability condition); cf. Weerman (1989:53ff.). The examples in this section provide the reference in the preceding question, but it may also be expressed in other ways. It should further be noted that Thrift (2003: Section 2.3) found that acceptability judgments made by speakers depend on the person features of the omitted topic; omission of arguments referring to (sets of individuals including) the speaker and, especially, the hearer are often judged to be unacceptable. Thrift suggests that this is due to the fact that the reference of first and second person pronouns shifts in conversation due to turn-taking, which may also account for the fact that first person pronouns are easily dropped in ego-documents and monologues, in which turn-taking does not play a role. The data in Jansen (1981) and Thrift (2003) further suggest that in speech topic drop is more frequent and considered more common with objects than with subjects.
      Example (34b) has shown that topics can be topicalized and then occupy the sentence-initial position. The question-answer pairs in (35) show, however, that this is not obligatory: the topic may also occur in the middle field of the clause.

Example 35
a. Ken jij Het beleg van Laken van Walter van den Broeck?
  know  you  Het beleg van Laken by Walter van den Broeck
  'Do you know Het beleg van Laken by Walter van den Broeck?'
b. Ja, ik heb het/dat met plezier gelezen.
  yes,  have  it/that  with pleasure  read
  'Yes, Iʼve enjoyed reading it.'
b'. Ja, dat heb ik met plezier gelezen.
  yes  that  have  with pleasure  read
  'Yes, Iʼve enjoyed reading it.'

Pronouns in the middle field differ from those in sentence-initial position in that the former can be either referential ( het'it') or demonstrative ( dat'that'), whereas the latter are normally demonstrative. This is probably related to the fact that topicalized phrases must bear accent, while referential pronouns are normally unstressed. Note that in some cases, referential and demonstrative pronouns are even in complementary distribution as many speakers reject demonstratives in the middle field if their antecedent is +animate. This will become clear by comparing the question-answer pair in (36) to the one in (34).

Example 36
a. Weet jij waar Jan is?
  know  you  where  Jan  is
  'Do you know where Jan is?'
b. Nee, ik heb hem/??die niet gezien.
  no have him/that  not  seen
  'No, I havenʼt seen him.'

The examples in (37) show, however, that topic drop is only possible in topicalization constructions: omission of the pronoun in the middle field of the clause, as in (37a), results in an inappropriate response to (35a).

Example 37
a. $ Ja, ik heb met plezier gelezen.
inappropriate response to ( 35a)
  yes,  have  with pleasure  read
  'Yes, Iʼve enjoyed reading.'
b. Ja, heb ik met plezier gelezen.
appropriate response to ( 35a)
  yes  have  with pleasure  read
  'Yes, Iʼve enjoyed reading it.'

The difference in appropiateness of the two discourse continuations in (37) is due to the fact that the verb lezen'to read' receives a pseudo-intransitive interpretation if the omitted pronoun is part of the middle field of the clause but not if it is topicalized. This strongly suggests that the pronoun is still syntactically present in the V1-construction in (37b). Additional support for the hypothesis that the initial position of the V1-constructions of this type is syntactically filled is provided by the fact that topic drop is also allowed with R-pronouns extracted from pronominal PPs like er/daar ... van in the (b)-examples in (38). Given that the PP-complement of the verb horen obligatorily has a nominal complement, the omitted topic must be syntactically present in (38b').

Example 38
a. Weet jij wat een tapuit is?
  know  you  what  a wheatear  is
  'Do you know what a wheatear is?'
b. Nee, ik heb *(er/daar) nog nooit van gehoord.
  no  have   there/there  still  never  of  heard
  'No, Iʼve never heard of it before.'
b'. Nee, (daar) heb ik nog nooit van gehoord.
  no  there  have  still never  of  heard
  'No, Iʼve never heard of it before.'

      The discussion above leads to the conclusion that topic drop constructions have a syntactically realized, but phonetically empty constituent in sentence-initial position. This in turn suggests that topic drop constructions involve a (phonetically empty) topic operator, [CP OPTopic Vfinite [TP .......]], or elision of a topic in sentence-initial position: [CPTopic Vfinite [TP .......]]; see Jansen (1981:ch.5), Thrift (2003) and Barbiers (2007) for discussion. Analyses of this sort are supported by the fact that topic drop is excluded in questions; the pronoun dat cannot be dropped in the two (b)-examples in (39) because the sentence-initial positions are already occupied by, respectively, the wh-phrase wanneer and the phonetically empty question operator OPpolar discussed in Section 11.2.1.

Example 39
a. Het beleg van Laken is een interessant en onderhoudend boek.
  Het beleg van Laken is an interesting and entertaining book
b. Zo, wanneer heb je *(dat) gelezen?
  so  when  have  you     that  read
  'Really, when did you read that?'
b'. Zo, OPpolar heb je *(dat) gelezen?
  so  have  you     that  read
  'Really, have you read that?'

      More evidence is provided by the fact that topic drop can be applied to a single constituent only. First consider the examples in (40), which show that topic drop may affect subjects and (in)direct objects alike; cf. Jansen (1981:ch.5).

Example 40
a. Waar is Jan? (Die) is al naar huis.
subject
  where  is Jan   that  is already  to home
  'Where is Jan? He has gone home already.'
b. Waar is Jan? (Die) heb ik weggestuurd.
direct object
  where  is Jan  that  have  away-send
  'Where is Jan? Iʼve dismissed him.'
c. Waar is Jan? (Die) heb ik een boottocht aangeboden.
indirect object
  where  is Jan  that  have  a boat.trip  prt.-offered
  'Where is Jan? Iʼve offered him a boat trip.'

The examples in (41) show that R-parts of pronominal PPs may also be dropped provided that the PP can be split; applying topic drop to the R-part of the pronominal PP in the reaction to the question in (41c') is unacceptable because R-extraction from temporal adverbial phrases is also excluded—it is instead the adverbial pro-form dan'then' in (41c) that is dropped; see Thrift (2003: Section 2.3) and the references cited there for more discussion.

Example 41
a. Hoe loopt het project? (Daar) praten we later over.
PP-complement
  how  walks   the project   there  talk  we later  about
  'How is the project going? Weʼll talk about that later.'
b. Wat doe je met die kist? (Daar) stop ik boeken in.
complementive
  what  do  you  with that box   there  put  I books  in
  'What will you do with that box? I will put books in it.'
c. Wil jij koffie na het eten? Nee, (dan) heb ik liever thee.
adverb
  want  you  coffee  after the meal  no   then  have  rather  tea
  'Would you like coffee after dinner? No, I prefer tea then.'
c'. Wil jij koffie na het eten? *Nee, (daar) heb ik liever thee na.
  want  you  coffee after the meal    no   there  have I  rather tea  after

Despite the fact that topic drop may apply to a large set of clausal constituents, it is impossible to construct cases in which topic drop applies to more than one constituent at the same time; although the subject and the direct object in the two (b)-examples in (42) are both possible targets for topic drop individually, the unacceptability of (42c) shows that they cannot be dropped simultaneously. This follows immediately on the assumption that topic drop requires the topic to be in clause-initial position, and this position can only contain a single constituent.

Example 42
a. Wat doet Peter met zijn kapotte printer?
  what  does  Peter with his broken printer
  'What will Peter do about his broken printer?'
b. (Die) gooit hem natuurlijk weg.
subject
  that  throws  him  of. course  away
  'Heʼll throw it away, of course.'
b'. (Die) gooit hij natuurlijk weg.
direct object
  that  throws  he  of.course  away
  'Heʼll throw it away, of course.'
c. * Gooit natuurlijk weg.
subject + direct object
  throws  of.course  away

      Topic drop is sensitive to a recoverability condition: the substantive content of the dropped topic must be reconstructible from the context. This is illustrated by means of the examples in (43), which show that topic drop of a subject does not affect subject-verb agreement. The fact that there is subject-verb agreement in examples such as (43) of course constitutes additional evidence for the hypothesis that the topic is syntactically present.

Example 43
a. Waar is Jan? (Die) is3p,sg al naar huis.
  where  is Jan that  is  already  to home
  'Where is Jan? He has gone home already.'
b. Waar zijn Jan en Marie? (Die) zijn3p,sg al naar huis.
  where  is  Jan and Marie  those  are  already  to home
  'Where is Jan? They have gone home already.'

The same is shown by examples like (44a&b); since reflexive pronouns must have a syntactically present antecedent in their clause, we have to assume that it is present even after topic drop. The examples further show that the form of the reflexive pronoun is determined by the person feature of the omitted topic.

Example 44
a. Wat is er met je gebeurd? (Iki) heb mezelfi gesneden.
  what  is there  with you  happened   I  have  myself  cut
  'What has happened to you? Iʼve cut myself.'
b. Wat is er met Peter gebeurd? (Diei) heeft zichzelfi gesneden.
  what  is  there  with Peter  happened   that  has  himself  cut
  'What has happened with Peter? He has cut himself.'

Examples such as (44a) are sometimes considered to be cases of "diary drop" (which can also be found in English); see Haegeman (1990). Diary drop always involves the first person pronoun ik'I' and is typically found in ego-documents and letter but it also occurs in speech and folk songs. A typical example of the latter is found in the onset of the following traditional "clapping" song: cf. handjeklappen'to strike a bargain by clapping hands'. That we are dealing with diary drop is clear from the fact that there are several versions of this song in which the subject pronoun is overtly expressed (which is readily possible without affecting the meter by the use of the proclitic form k'I'); see liederenbank.nl for alternative versions.

Example 45
Klap, ging naar de markt/Kocht een koe/Stukje lever toe/…
  clap went to the market/bought  a cow/piece [of] liver extra/…
'I went to the market and bought a cow. I got a piece of liver extra, …'

Although we do not see any compelling reason for assigning subject drop a special syntactic status in Dutch, we added the examples in (46) to show that the number specification of the omitted topic is likewise relevant: reciprocals like elkaar'each other' normally have a plural antecedent.

Example 46
a. Wat hebben Jan en Els gedaan? (Diei) hebben met elkaari gevochten.
  what  have  Jan and Els  done  those  have  with each.other  fought
  'What have Jan and Els done? Theyʼve fought with each other.'
b. * Wat heeft Jan gedaan? (Diei) heeft met elkaari gevochten.
  what  has  Jan done   that  has  with each.other  fought

A final illustration of the fact that the substantive content of an elided topic must be reconstructible from the context is given in (47). These examples show that supplementives and floating quantifiers can be used despite the fact that they are normally associated with a noun phrase in their own clause.

Example 47
a. Waarom is Jan gearresteeerd? Tja, (die) liep naakt op straat.
  why is Jan arrested  well,  that  walked  nude  on street
  'Why has Jan been arrested? Well, he walked in the street nude.'
b. Ken je deze boeken? Ja, (die) heb ik allemaal gelezen.
  know you  these books  yes  those  have  all  read
  'Do you know these books? Yes, I have read them all.'

      This section has discussed V1-clauses with topic drop and has shown that there is ample evidence that the initial position of such clauses is syntactically filled by some phonetically empty constituent. Topic-drop constructions thus confirm the claim that the V1 order is merely a superficial phonetic phenomenon.

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References:
  • Barbiers, Sjef2007On the periphery of imperative and declarative clauses in Dutch and GermanWurff, Wim van der (ed.)Imperative clauses in generative grammar. Studies in honour of Frits BeukemaAmsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins95-112
  • Crystal, David1991A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics (third edition)Blackwell Publisher
  • Erica Thrift2003Object Drop in the L1 Acquisition of DutchAmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Erica Thrift2003Object Drop in the L1 Acquisition of DutchAmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Erica Thrift2003Object Drop in the L1 Acquisition of DutchAmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Erica Thrift2003Object Drop in the L1 Acquisition of DutchAmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Haegeman, Liliane1990Non-overt subjects in diary contextsMascaró, Joan & Nespor, Marina (eds.)Grammar in progress. Glow essays for Henk van RiemsdijkDordrecht/ProvidenceForis Publications167-174
  • Jansen, Frank1981Syntaktische konstrukties in gesproken taalAmsterdamHuis aan de drie grachten
  • Jansen, Frank1981Syntaktische konstrukties in gesproken taalAmsterdamHuis aan de drie grachten
  • Jansen, Frank1981Syntaktische konstrukties in gesproken taalAmsterdamHuis aan de drie grachten
  • Jansen, Frank1981Syntaktische konstrukties in gesproken taalAmsterdamHuis aan de drie grachten
  • Weerman, Fred1989The V2 conspiracy. A synchronic and a diachronic analysis of verbal positions in Germanic languagesDordrecht/ProvidenceForis Publications
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