PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Juliane Tiemann

Speculum regale: Informasjons- og syntaksstruktur i den gammelnorske lærdomsdialogen Konungs skuggsjá

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In my PhD-project, I will examine the word order in Old Norwegian with respect to the influence of information structural constraints on syntactic variation and its interaction with grammatical conditions. Information structure is defined as the relationship between the sentence constituents and the surrounding text. Linguistic information can thus be packaged in different ways depending on the background and the goal of a given discourse context in order to optimize the information transfer within this discourse.

In Old Norwegian, we find word order variation that is reflected in a syntactic flexibility that makes various positions available for e.g. subjects, objects and adverbials within their clauses. The pragmatic content, which is associated with syntactic positions varies, and arguments that can be interpreted as theme or rheme do not necessarily appear at designated unmarked positions. This allows a maximum scope to position constituents according to whatever information-structural goal a language user wants to achieve. The relatively free word order in Old Norwegian is thus exploited by a pragmatic use and a range of syntactic functions to encode links to the previous discourse.

Information structure interacts with almost every other linguistic level and by this does not map onto syntax in any direct way. The autonomy of syntax and information structure is important both for syntactic modeling and for ideas about which order can be taken as basic for a language. Following this, my project has a strong pragmatic perspective by studying word order variation (with a focus on text structuring mechanisms) and is hence not solely a study on syntactic mechanisms. This approach postulates one grammar for Old Norwegian with varying surface structures in contrast to theories adopting the Double Base Hypothesis.

References to modern Norwegian will be placed in the context of syntactic change, but this research focusses mainly on a synchronous level (ON). Word order change involves a change in the mapping between syntactic and prosodic structure in which information structure plays a crucial role. The various syntactic functions become increasingly associated with information-structural statuses and by this can lose their pragmatically value and become the unmarked word order. Thus, information structure does not only induce changes on the level of clause structure, but can also affect properties of referring expressions like their lexical form or their syntactic behavior in, e.g. focus marking multi-clausal constructions. Information structure is by this means an important link between grammatical and stylistic forms and can give further insights in how corpus languages attempt to achieve the needs of communicative explicitness and stylistic expressivity. Phenomena as scrambling, topicalisation or dislocation (e.g. with the adverbial þá) which differ from an unmarked clause order can thus be explained homogeneous.

The aim of this project is to find out to what extent and in what way word order in Old Norwegian was governed by information-structural constraints. Of particular theoretical interest, is among others, the exploration of the general interactions between grammar and information structure in Old Norwegian, including questions as: Which references one can obtain for structural distribution of focused and non-focused information by analyzing a coherent text? Which (specific) subordinated clause-types that correlate with an own information structure can be found in Old Norwegian? Which conditions have to be fulfilled to enforce syntactic change triggered by information structure?

The study will be corpus-based, and I will establish an annotated corpus (morphosyntactic structure as well as information structure). The text for this corpus is the Old Norwegian main manuscript of Konungs skugssjá, AM 243 bα fol., which is available in the Menota-archive (Medieval Nordic Text Archive) with 2/3 of the text already annotated on a morphological level. My annotation will be based on a primary structuring of information into two independent main-layers: theme-rheme and focus-background. It should be mentioned that there are certain problems associated with the annotation of information structure. This is due to the fact that the notions of topic, focus, theme and rheme have received a variety of interpretations in linguistic literature. However, with a clear definition of the use in my annotation, I expect that researchers who work within other theoretical frameworks will be able to use the corpus for their purposes. To ensure that elements that are ambiguous in a morphological or syntactical way can be analyzed properly, the analysis depends mostly on a rich annotation on various levels (including discourse relations). A later integration of the corpus into larger national and international projects is intended (PROIEL and ANNIS).