Saturday, January 28, 2012

praising the topic-first sentence structure

D - I read a book on the formal linguistics of ASL sign language.
While many consider ASL merely 'signed English', there are many aspects to it that define it as a language in its own right. It is not merely signed English, or even just a creole version of it.

A topic-prominent language is a language that organizes its syntax to emphasize the topic–comment structure of the sentence. The term is best known in American linguistics from Charles N. Li and Sandra Thompson, who distinguished topic-prominent languages, like Japanese, from subject-prominent languages, like English.

Many topic-prominent languages share several syntactic features that have arisen because, in these languages, sentences are structured around topics rather than subjects and objects:

They tend to downplay the role of the passive voice, if a passive construction exists at all, since the main idea of passivization is to turn an object into a subject in languages where the subject is understood to be the topic by default.
They usually don't have expletives or "dummy subjects" (pleonastic pronouns) like English it in It's raining.
They often have sentences with so-called "double subjects", actually a topic plus a subject.

They do not have articles, which are another way of indicating old vs. new information.
The distinction between subject and object is not reliably marked

A dummy pronoun (formally: expletive pronoun or pleonastic pronoun) is a type of pronoun used in non-pro-drop languages, such as English. It is used when a particular verb argument (or preposition) is nonexistent (it could also be unknown, irrelevant, already understood, or otherwise not to be spoken of directly), but when a reference to the argument (a pronoun) is nevertheless syntactically required.

Weather itIn the phrase It is raining, the verb to rain is usually considered semantically impersonal, even though it appears as syntactically intransitive; in this view, the required it is to be considered a dummy word.

D - just to test reactions, I sometimes will say something like "the weather today is rain" just to see how people react. They look at me funny. Or funnily?
They often do look funny TO me. <:


D - why do I mention this? Chinese.

[edit] Topic prominenceChinese is considered to be a topic-prominent language, where the topic of the sentence (defined as "old" information whereupon the sentence is based) takes precedence in the sentence. For example, the following sentences do not seem to follow normal subject-first word order, but adhere perfectly to the topic–comment structure (Traditional Characters in square brackets):

院子(yuànzi)里(lǐ) 停着(tíngzhe) 一(yí) 辆(liàng) 车(chē)。 [院子裏停著一輛車。]
Literally: In the courtyard is parked a car. (A car is parked in the courtyard.)

D - Japanese is also topic prominent.


QOTD: "But Oriental and other exotic habits of speech might gradually suggest or even force a compromise with it (D - a simple phonology would distort Western languages)." (Sapir)

Aside- I'm eying Sapir's advice on not mixing V/W, E/I, or O/U, as well as L/R, side by side. I hope F handles some of the issues with V/W. I could use pairs in ways that are very clear, with the consonant-vowel word particle construction ensuring this. For example, LO and RU, and VE and WI respectively.

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