ZAS Project P9 (2001-2007)

Semantics of the C-Domain:

Positions and Interpretations for Sentence Topichood


Prof. Dr. Claudia Maienborn

Dr. Werner Frey

Dr. Philippa Cook (2006 - 2007)

Fabienne Fritzsche (2006 - 2007)

Ph.D. Benjamin Shaer (2002 - 2005)

Jana Hosemann, student

Maria Averintseva, associated Ph.D. student





About P9

The basic task of the P9 project is to investigate the notion of 'sentence topichood', understood in two different ways: as a constituent of a sentence that indicates what the sentence is about (the so-called 'aboutness topic') and as a constituent that restricts the assertion that the sentence makes (the so-called 'Chinese-style topic' or 'frame'). The goal, then, is to determine the syntactic, semantic, and information-structural properties of aboutness and frame topics and their relation both to the rest of the sentence and to the larger discourse. One issue that the project is particularly interested in is the relation between topichood and the sentence's left periphery.

The languages that the project focusses on are German and English, which - though closely related typologically - display intriguing differences with respect to issues of topicality and left periphery and thus provide an interesting basis for comparative study.

The framework in which research is being conducted can be summarized as follows:


The project's basic working hypotheses that is exploring are as follows:

  1. Sentence topichood is not divided in a mutually exclusive fashion between aboutness and frame topics; rather, the two notions of topichood are independent of each other and thus may overlap.
  2. Contrary to standard claims, aboutness and frame topics in German are structurally marked not in the Vorfeld but in the Mittelfeld.
  3. In English, sentence-initial adverbials followed by an intonational break are only weakly connected to the rest of the sentence and are accordingly semantically underspecified.


Specific questions that the project will be investigating include: