Project B4 (Donhauser, Petrova)

The role of information structure in language change


Project B4 investigates the role of information structure in language change. In the preceding two funding phases, this question was examined on the basis of evidence for syntactic variation and change in Germanic. Our investigations revealed that variation in word order, as attested in the historical prestages of the Germanic languages, interacts with the realisation of information structural categories, e.g. with the (non-)creation of topic-comment-division or the disambiguation of contrastive vs. information focus. Based on these observations, we developed a model which shows how the expression of information structural categories influences syntactic variation and change. In the third funding phase, we aim at testing and verifying this model on explaining additional historical processes initiated or accompanied by information structural conditions. During our previous examinations, we observed that information structure not only induces changes on the level of clause structure but also affects properties of referring expressions like their lexical form, their semantic type, or their syntactic behaviour in topic or focus marking multi-clausal constructions. In examining these questions we want to apply our method of investigating information structure in historical corpora successfully exploited in the previous work of the project, supplementing it with analytical methods developed by the theoretical project in the SFB in order to describe the respective diachronic processes in a proper and straightforward fashion.

Full description 3rd phase SFB 632 / B4 (excerpt from the proposal) pdficon small


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