ZAS Projekt 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
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:
- Syntax: representational, feature-based generative syntax.
- Semantics: compositional Discourse Representation Theory.
- Pragmatics: optimality-theoretic version of pragmatic economy conditions.
The project's basic working hypotheses that is exploring are as follows:
- 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.
- Contrary to standard claims, aboutness and frame topics in German are structurally marked not in the Vorfeld but in the Mittelfeld.
- 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:
- What is the syntactic structure of the 'C domain' in German and English?
- What is the syntactic structure of the German Mittelfeld?
- What conditions must be fulfilled by aboutness topics?
- What is the compositional semantics of frame modification?
- How do aboutness and frame topics interact?
- Are aboutness and frame topics the only instances of sentence topichood?
- What are the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic properties of left dislocation, hanging topic and other constructions involving the left periphery?
- What are the benefits and liabilities of a modular view of the syntax and semantics of German left dislocated PPs ('PP, da... ')?
- What structural differences exist among sentence-initial adverbials in English?
- How are elements weakly connected to the rest of the sentence integrated into the sentence?