Information Structure in Ekegusii, Ph.D Thesis. University of Nairobi, 2013

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.


The main aim of this thesis is to explore how the pragmatic functions, topic and focus, influence the formal organization and content of two discoursal components: word order, and referential coherence, based on Ekegusii, a Bantu language spoken in Kenya. The data for the study consists of corpora elicited using question-answer coherence guided by pictures, and elicited monologic narratives. It uses an eclectic approach in describing the role of information structure in Ekegusii. It utilizes Lambrecht’s model of information structure, and Bidirectional Optimality Theory to capture both production (by speaker) and comprehension (by hearer) aspects in discourse. Centering Optimality Theory is used to account for the discourse-pragmatics of referential coherence. The study found out that information structural constraints at the sentential level mainly influence the information state of both canonical and noncanonical constructions word orders. It influences the interpretation, through the pragmatic structuring of propositions, helping the hearer differentiate what is information (focus) in relation to a given topic, and this may induce movement, insertion or deletion of some sentential constituents. However, information structure optionally affects sentential form in Ekegusii. In relation to how information structure interacts with referential coherence, the results of a corpus based analysis show that alternative ways of coherently referring to participants using nominal expressions in the roles of grammatical subject object and oblique depend on pragmatic functions. Coherence was found out to be driven by a hard constraint “COHERE” which cannot be violated even by the information structural constraints that licences focus. The focus relations, sentence focus and presentational focus, are therefore associated with low coherence, transitions, not dire incoherence, because the focus relation is typically used for shifting reference in discourse. The topic relations are associated with higher coherence transitions when attention is focused on a given topical entity. The results of the study demonstrate the need for incorporation information structure, an independent component of grammar, in handling the problem of pragmatic motivation in the grammar of human languages at the micro and macro-syntactic levels of discourse. Though the study is theory oriented and on Ekegusii, it is relevant to understanding how packaging information affects discourse, by considering the syntax, semantics and pragmatics (the ‘semiotic circle’) of information in general. Is of use to persons who are interested in understanding how messages are to be optimaly coded and decoded in human communication by interlocutors in Ekegusii, and beyond any given language.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Even though the relevance of non-truth-conditional notions like 'topic' and 'focus' in sentence structure and interpretation has long been 'recognized, there is little agreement on the exact nature of these notions and their role in a model of linguistic competence. Following the information-packaging approach (Chafe 1976, Prince 1986), this study argues that these notions are primitive elements in the informational component of language. This component, informatics, is responsible for the articulation of sentences qua information, where information is defined as that part of propositional content which constitutes a contribution of knowledge to the hearer's knowledge-store. Informational primitives combine into four possible distinct information-packaging instructions, which direct hearers to retrieve the information of a sentence and enter it into their knowledge-store in a specific way.^ After a discussion of previous approaches to the informational articulation of the sentence, a hierarchical articulation is proposed: sentences are divided into the focus, which is the only information of the sentence, and the ground, which specifies how that information fits in the hearer's knowledge-store. The ground is further divided into the link, which denotes an address in the hearer's knowledge-store under which s/he is instructed to enter the information, and the tail, which provides further directions on how the information must be entered under a given address.^ Empirical support for this representation of information packaging comes especially from the surface encoding of instructions in Catalan, which is then contrasted with that of English. Using a multistratal syntactic theory, it is then proposed that information packaging is structurally and purely represented at the abstract level of IS, which acts as an interface with informatics. Finally, in order to further argue for informatics as an autonomous linguistic component, some proposals that attempt to include informational notions under logical semantics are reviewed and countered.^ This study is an effort to gain insight into one subdomain of pragmatics by integrating it into the larger process of language understanding. This is done by giving otherwise elusive informational notions a specific role in the component responsible for the entry of information into the hearer's knowledge-store.
A semantics of informing provides a good framework for formalizing descriptions of coreference systems in natural languages, especially for capturing the ambiguity so natural to such systems. Pronouns are clearly ambiguous when taken out of context.
This introduction to the role of information structure in grammar discusses a wide range of phenomena on the syntax-information structure interface. It examines theories of information structure and considers their effectiveness in explaining whether and how information structure maps onto syntax in discourse. Professor Erteschik-Shir begins by discussing the basic notions and properties of information structure, such as topic and focus, and considers their properties from different theoretical perspectives. She covers definitions of topic and focus, architectures of grammar, information structure, word order, the interface between lexicon and information structure, and cognitive aspects of information structure. In her balanced and readable account, the author critically compares the effectiveness of different theoretical approaches and assesses the value of insights drawn from work in processing and on language acquisition, variation, and universals. This book will appeal to graduate students of syntax and semantics in departments of linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive science.
Every human language has some syntactic means of distinguishing a negative from a non-negative sentence; in other words, every speaker ‘s syntactic competence provides a means to express sentential negation. This ability, however, may be expressed in different ways, as shown by the fact that individual languages employ different syntactic strategies for the expression of the same semantic function of negating a sentence. Zanuttini ‘s goal here is to characterize the range of such variation by comparing the different syntactic means for expressing sentential negation exhibited by the members of one language family--the Romance languages--and by reducing the differences we witness to a constrained set of choices available to the particular grammars of these languages. This sort of analysis is a first step towards the ultimate goal of determining and understanding what limits there are on the syntactic options that universal grammar imposes on the expression of sentential negation.
1 One major concern of syntactic theory has been the identification of the structural po-sition of adjuncts in the clausal architecture with the ultimate goal of explaining their properties in a number of respects. In this paper I concentrate on the analysis of cen-tral adverbial clauses, providing evidence that when in initial position they always ap-pear in specifier positions, either in [Spec,TopP], as proposed in Borgonovo and Valmala (2009), or in [Spec,FocP]. Concerning their sentence-final position, I explore the tradi-tional right-adjunction approach to the position of adverbials, the adjunct-in-complement analysis argued for in Larson (1988), Stroik (1990), Kayne (1994), and the adjunct-in-specifier approach defended in Baltin (2004) and Cinque (1999, 2006), showing that Cinque's (2006) analysis is more adequate on both empirical and conceptual grounds.
This book scrutinizes recent work in phonological theory from the perspective of Chomskyan generative linguistics and argues that progress in the field depends on taking seriously the idea that phonology is best studied as a mental computational system derived from an innate base, phonological Universal Grammar. Two simple problems of phonological analysis provide a frame for a variety of topics throughout the book. The competence-performance distinction and markedness theory are both addressed in some detail, especially with reference to phonological acquisition. Several aspects of Optimality Theory, including the use of Output-Output Correspondence, functionalist argumentation and dependence on typological justification are critiqued. The authors draw on their expertise in historical linguistics to argue that diachronic evidence is often mis-used to bolster phonological arguments, and they present a vision of the proper use of such evidence. Issues of general interest for cognitive scientists, such as whether categories are discrete and whether mental computation is probabilistic are also addressed. The book ends with concrete proposals to guide future phonological research. The breadth and depth of the discussion, ranging from details of current analyses to the philosophical underpinnings of linguistic science, is presented in a direct style with as little recourse to technical language as possible.
The purpose of this paper is to investigate generative strategies for maximizing coherence in discourse. We will outline a description of a generative procedure for anaphoric substitution using the Optimality Theory framework of Prince and Smolensky [P&S93] that is loosely based on earlier attempts by Hendriks and de Hoop [H&H00] and, in particular, Beaver [Beaver00] to apply that framework to anaphora resolution and generation, paying particular attention to recent proposals by Blutner et al. related to bidirectionality and the interdependence of linguistic interpretation and production. We will argue that the notion of bidirectionality ought to be modified to reflect an asymmetry in that interdependence as opposed to the symmetric, mutual reliance defended or assumed in contemporary definitions thereof. Using the same constraint-based framework, and exploiting the notion of discourse relations expounded in Asher [Asher93] and Asher and Lascarides [A&L93b] et al., as well as the linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge bases that are assumed to underlie a hearer's determination of those relations, we extend the account to a description of restrictions on textual order, basic syntactic operations such as conjunction and relativization, and the distributional behavior of tense constructions that will, again, depend heavily on insights related to the interface of interpretational and generative constraints and to our own claims about interpretational precedence. Finally, we return briefly to the subject of anaphora and, armed with the aforementioned insights regarding the utility of non-linguistic information in interpretation, give an account of some cases that are recalcitrant for our original, syntactic account.