Michael Wagner: Focus, Topic, and Word Order: A Compositional View

This paper looks at the cartographic approach to word order restrictions relating to focus and topic. The observed word order patterns are more flexible than is expected under the assumption of a totally ordered hierarchy of functional projections, suggesting that this standard assumption of the cartographic approach results in an all-too-Procrustean bed for syntactic typology. The observed patterns are as expected under a compositional view that tries to derive the observed word order patterns from the semantics of the focus operators involved. The evidence suggests that a cartography of natural languages has to take into account a broader range of syntactic configurations. A closer look at the compositional meaning of sentences can help understand existing constraints on word order variation.

Keywords: focus, topic, prosody, scope, compositionality

full paper

To appear in: Jeroen van Cranenbroeck (Ed.): Alternatives to Cartography. Papers from the 2nd Brussels Colloquium on Generative Grammar.