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Unmarked word orders in the middle field

The middle field (MV) of a clause is situated between the verb-second (V2), verb-first (V1) position or a complementiser, on the one hand, and the clause-final verb cluster (VF), on the other. The MF correlates with part of the underlying functional domain of a clause and part of the lexical domain, which represents the proposition as such. The structure of the clause is also related to the way old and new information, or presupposition and focus are distributed in the flow of discourse, which is in turn supported by the placement of sentence stress or contrastive stress. Thus in example (1) the new information is restricted to the adverb môre, a non-verbal constituent preceding VF in the conventional order.

Example 1

Ek verstaan dat ons besoekers môre aankom.
I understand that.COMP our visitors tomorrow on.come.PRS
I understand that our visitors are arriving tomorrow.

Conventionally, a declarative clause in the active voice is characterised by the argument order agent > goal > theme if all are expressed as NPs, as in (2a). The order becomes freer if goal is, for instance, expressed by a PP, as in (2b).

Example 2

a. dat Anton <haar> sy selfoon <*haar> wil gee.
that.COMP Anton <her> his cellphone <her> want.to.AUX.MOD give.INF
that Anton wants to give her his cellphone.
b. dat Anton <vir haar> sy selfoon <vir haar> wil gee.
that.COMP Anton <for her> his cellphone <for her> want.to.AUX.MOD give.INF
that Anton wants to give her his cellphone / his cellphone to her.

Constituents may be transferred to discourse-old information or the presuppositional part of the clause by leftward movement in the MF, as môre tomorrow in (3a), while sentence stress remains on laat late, or môre may maintain its status as discourse-new information through contrastive stress, as in (3b).

Example 3

a. dat môre beslis te laat sal wees.
that.COMP tomorrow definitely too late will.AUX.MOD be.INF
that tomorrow will definitely be too late.
b. dat môre beslis te laat sal wees.
that.COMP tomorrow definitely too late will.AUX.MOD be.INF
that tomorrow will definitely be too late

For more information, cf. the following sections:

[+]Ordering and movement

In order to describe the movement of constituents in the middle field (MF) of the clause, i.e. in the section between the verb-second position (V2) and the clause-final verb position (VF), it is first of all necessary to determine what the unmarked or neutral order is. The entire clause can also be split up into a functional domain expressing tense, modality, illocutionary force, etc., usually applicable to the entire clause, followed by a lexical domain containing the main verb and its arguments and modifiers, which together constitute a proposition. The functional domain therefore includes or overlaps with V2 as well as the clause-initial field (CI), and the lexical domain with VF and the post-verbal field (PV). The border between the two domains, across which elements can move, therefore falls within the MF. Moving elements from the lexical to the functional domain thus amounts to moving elements within the MF. The relative ordering of constituents and domains may be schematised as follows:

Table 1
Domain: functional lexical
Position: CI, V2, MF ... … MF, VF, PV

The unmarked order is syntacticallly understood in terms of the conventionally determined base order of constituents, and semantically in terms of information structure, according to which old information, i.e. the presupposition, is followed by the new information, or focus of the clause. The extent of each domain and the border between the two are not fixed, however.

Conventionally, the following generalisations can be proposed for the ordering of constituents in the MF:

  • Nominal arguments occur in the order agent > goal > theme, as in (4);
  • Nominal objects precede prepositional objects, as in (5);
  • Nominal objects precede complementives, as in (6).

Example 4

Ek hoor dat Anton (vir) Annie 'n bonus aangebied het.
[ek hoor dat [(AGENT) Anton] [(GOAL) (vir) Annie] [(THEME) 'n bonus] aangebied het]
I hear that.COMP Anton for Annie a bonus offer.PST.PTCP have.AUX
I hear that Anton offered Annie a bonus.
Example 5

dat Anton 'n present vir Annie op haar verjaarsdag gebring het.
[dat [(SUB) Anton] [(NP) 'n present] [(PP) vir Annie] [(PP) op haar verjaarsdag] gebring het]
that.COMP Anton a present for Annie on her birthday bring.PST.PTCP have.AUX
that Anton brought Annie a present on her birthday.
Example 6

a. dat Anton die duikboot geel geverf het.
that.COMP Anton the submarine yellow paint.PST.PTCP have.AUX
that Anton painted the submarine yellow.
[dat [(SUB) Anton] [(DO) die duikboot] [(COMPLM) geel] geverf het]
a.' dat Anton die duikboot uitmekaar gehaal het.
that.COMP Anton the submarine out.each.other take.PST.PTCP have.AUX
that Anton took the submarine apart.
[dat [(SUB) Anton] [(DO) die duikboot] [(COMPLM) uitmekaar] gehaal het]
a.'' dat Anton die duikboot tot rommel gereduseer het.
that.COMP Anton the submarine to junk reduce.PST.PTCP have.AUX
that Anton reduced the submarine to junk.
[dat [(SUB) Anton] [(DO) die duikboot] [(COMPLM) tot rommel] gereduseer het]

The reordering of constituents in the MF is brought about inter alia by the movement of elements out of the lexical domain into the functional domain. As a clause adverbial such as the modal waarskynlik probably is deemed to form part of the functional domain, a constituent moved to a position before the modal also becomes part of the functional domain. Thus while in (7a) the PP in die kraal in the pen merely indicates where the cow's fodder was lacking (it could have been elsewhere), its leftward movement, as in (7b), sheds light on the whereabouts of the cow, i.e. the general background, when fodder was lacking.

Example 7

a. Die koei het waarskynlik geen voer in die kraal gehad nie.
the cow have.AUX probably no fodder in the pen have.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
The cow probably had no fodder in the pen.
b. Die koei het in die kraal waarskynlik geen voer gehad nie.
the cow have.AUX in the pen probably no fodder have.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
Being in the pen the cow probably had no fodder.
[+]Information structure and stress placement

The neutral or default ordering within clauses becomes more apparent if it can be differentiated from processes of movement. Movement is to a large extent motivated by the need to highlight new information in the stream of discourse. Such movement is often accompanied by an adjustment to the regular prosody of declaratives, interrogatives, etc. New information can, however, be foregrounded by stress placement (and strength) alone. In what follows, a few comments will be made on information structure and stress placement.

Historically, the terms subject and predicate represent the notion that a clause or sentence consists of "old" information linking it to earlier discourse or the speech situation as such, and what more the speaker wishes to present as "new" information, respectively. The two kinds of information are, however, not always easy to distinguish and the precise border is often difficult to draw. What is new information and what is known to the interlocutor is moreover dependent on the discursive context. Thus while the new information is sometimes clearly discernable towards the end of the clause, it might also be the case that the entire utterance constitutes information that is new to the hearer. One way of determining the extent of the new information is by coupling the utterance with a leading question, which will then serve to foreground the discourse-new information in the reply. Thus in example (8) every declarative sentence is preceded by a relevant question.

In its narrow sense, the discourse-new information may be represented by a constituent immediately preceding the clause-final verb (VF), as in (8ai), which is also where the sentence stress is usually situated. Syntactically, the new information in the various examples in (8) is then the direct object in (8ai), a prepositional object in (8bi) and a locational PP in (8ci). In (8d), VF forms part of the new information, and in (8e) the relationship between question and answer is such that the entire sentence constitutes new information..

Example 8

a. Wat het Anton vir Annie aangebied?
what have.AUX Anton for Annie offer.PST.PTCP
What did Anton offer (to) Annie?
a.' Hy het vir haar 'n bonus aangebied.
he have.AUX for her a bonus offer.PST.PTCP
He offered her a bonus.
b. Na wie het Anton verlang?
to whom have.AUX Anton long.PST.PTCP
For whom did Anton long?
b.' Hy het na Annie verlang.
he have.AUX to Annie long.PST.PTCP
He longed for Annie.
c. Waar het Annie die geld gekry?
where have.AUX Annie the money find.PST.PTCP
Where did Annie find the money?
c.' Sy het die geld op die promenade gekry.
she have.AUX the money on the promenade find.PST.PTCP
She found the money on the promenade.
d. Hoe het Annie die geld in die hande gekry?
how have.AUX Annie the money in the hands get.PST.PTCP
How did Annie get hold of the money?
d.' Sy het die geld op die promenade opgetel.
she have.AUX the money on the promenade pick.up.PST.PTCP
She picked up the money on the promenade.
e. Wat gaan Annie met die geld maak?
what go.AUX.MOD Annie with the money do.INF
What is Annie going to do with the money?
e.' Die huur moet betaal word.
the rent must.AUX.MOD pay.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.PRS
The rent needs to be paid.

In (9a), the new information happens to correlate with the unmarked syntactic order, in this instance a locational adverbial preceding VF. This also correlates with the placement of the sentence stress (cf. Van Wyk (1977:178) for the phonetic background in Afrikaans and other languages.) The default placement of sentence stess is normally located in a non-verbal constituent preceding VF, and moves to VF itself if a relevant non-verbal constituent is absent. It is also correlated with word stress, in this case the penultimate syllable of promenade in (9a) and the first syllable of opgetel in (9b).

Example 9

a. Annie het die geld op die promenade gekry.
Annie have.AUX the money on the promenade find.PST.PTCP
Annie found the money on the promenade.
b. Annie het die geld opgetel.
Annie have.AUX the money up.pick.PST.PTCP
Annie picked up the money.

New information can also be highlighted by placing relatively strong contrastive stress on the relevant element.

Example 10

Annie het 'n koei in die huis laat inkom.
Annie have.AUX a cow in the house let.LINK in.come.INF
Annie let a cow into the house.

If the clausal order departs from the conventional order to facilitate the identification of discourse-new information, the focus can be complemented by the use of contrastive stress:

Example 11

In die BADkamer is waar die dekselse koei is!
in the bathroom is where the damn cow is
In the bathroom is where the damn cow is.

A maximally unmarked order is therefore characterised by the conventionally most firmly established syntactic order and with sentence stress supporting the section representing new information. Any syntactic movement away from the conventional stress position and/or any use of contrastive stress will signal a non-neutral or a somewhat marked order.

  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
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