The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

ESSL Meeting 10/18 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch
Date/time: Thursday, Oct 18, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: Prosodic prominence in intransitive clauses: argument structure or information structure?


Intransitive sentences exhibit variation in English as to whether their subject or predicate receives main prominence under broad focus (‘A VASE broke.’ vs. ‘John RAN.’). I will discuss a recent series of production experiments run jointly with Michael Wagner (McGill University), wherein we attempt to arbitrate between two theoretical accounts for this variation – one based on argument structure (unaccusativity), the other information structure (topicality). We show that the likelihood with which speakers produce prominence on the predicate correlates with the likelihood of the subject being construed as a topic, independent of whether the predicate is unaccusative or unergative (when information structure is controlled for, argument structure has no independent effect). This supports an information structure-based view where subject prominence is the unmarked pattern in intransitive sentences, with predicate prominence signalling topicality of the subject.