Seminar on Information Structure and Word Order Variation Argument Reversal (Inversion & Passivization). Gregory Ward Northwestern University Universidade de Santiago de Compostela Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa 19 Xuño 2008. Argument Reversal Type #1: Inversion.
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Seminar on Information Structure and Word Order Variation
Argument Reversal (Inversion & Passivization)
Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa
19 Xuño 2008
(1) They have a great big tank in the kitchen, and in the tank are sitting all of these pots. [Jeff Smith, Frugal Gourmet, 6/17/89]
Like preposing, inversion requires a salient OP — unless its preposed constituent is locative.
(2) The Chief of Police has developed a viral infection and may need to take an extended sick leave. In even worse condition is the mayor, who has been out for the past several days with a very high fever.
Since the preposed PP is non-locative, an OP is required:
(3) The Chief of Police has developed a viral infection and may need to take an extended sick leave. #In a complete rage is the mayor, who will have to cover for his absence.
Locative inversion requires no OP, but it does require a link (as with preposing):
(4) There are three ways to look at East State Street Village, a low-income apartment complex in Camden. None of them are pretty views. To the west of the 23 brightly colored buildings flows the Cooper River, a fetid waterway considered one of the most polluted in New Jersey.
[Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/7/84]
What about the discourse-status and hearer-status of the constituents of an inversion?
Inversions contain two noncanonically positioned constituents:
(1) They have a great big tank in the kitchen, and in the tank are sitting all of these pots.
Recall that preposings contain one noncanonically positioned constitutent:
In that tank, you will find all of the lobsters Ø.
(1)a. They have a great big tank in the kitchen, and
in the tank are sitting all of these pots.
b. They have all of these pots in the kitchen, and #in a great big tank are sitting all of the pots.
H-old/D-old H-old/D-new H-new/D-new
The only two cells that have no tokens are those in which Discourse-New information precedes Discourse-Old information.
In contrast, H-new information followed by H-old information is felicitous:
(6) I had lunch at Macy’s yesterday, and you wouldn't believe who was there. Behind a cluster of microphones was Hillary Clinton, holding another press conference.
This becomes even clearer when you look only at discourse-status:
The vast majority of the tokens contain discourse-old information followed by discourse-new information:
(7) “What’s Hot,” a magazine published by General Foods for children aged 4 to 14, is sent to households that are known to be responsive to ad promotions. The “message from the sponsor” is subtle, with brand names worked into activities such as games and quizzes. Accompanying the magazine are cents-off coupons.
[Consumer Reports, 6/89]
Putting discourse-new information before discourse-old information results in infelicity:
A: Hey, Bill, where’s the coffee grinder? Our guests will probably want some cappuccino after dinner.
B: #On the kitchen counter is the coffee grinder.
Notice that you also get D-old/D-old and D-new/D-new tokens.
But in the case of D-old/D-old tokens,
the more recently mentioned (i.e., more familiar) information appears first.
(8) Yes, this is no ordinary general election. ‘Evans is a Democrat; Daley is a Democrat. Different Democrats have different points of view about the city of Chicago and its politics,’ Jackson noted. ‘The war between forces within the party continues, and within our coalition.’
Standing in the middle of it all is Jesse Jackson.
[Chicago Tribune, 3/6/89]
(9)a. Each of the characters is the centerpiece of a book, doll and clothing collection. The story of each character is told in a series of six slim books, each $12.95 hardcover and $5.95 in paperback, and in bookstores and libraries across the country. More than 1 million copies have been sold; and in late 1989 a series of activity kits was introduced for retail sale. Complementing the relatively affordable books are the dolls, one for each fictional heroine and each with a comparably pricey historically accurate wardrobe and accessories…
[Chicago Tribune, 1/4/90]
(9)b. Each of the characters is the centerpiece of a book, doll and clothing collection. The story of each character is told in a series of six slim books, each $12.95 hardcover and $5.95 in paperback, and in bookstores and libraries across the country.... #Complementing the relatively affordable dolls are
the books, one for each fictional heroine...
Thus, inversion – an argument-reversing construction – imposes a relative, rather than an absolute, requirement on the information status of its constituents:
The preposed constituent may not represent information that is newer within the discourse than that represented by the postposed constituent.
What about other argument-reversing constructions in English?
The ball was hit by Sally. [CWO: Sally hit the ball.]
an argument-reversing construction
Passives without by-phrases:
The ball was hit.
no argument reversal
Passives with by-phrases are subject to the same constraint as inversion:
The initial element must represent information that is at least as familiar within the discourse as that represented by the final element.
In other words, the subject NP must represent information that is at least as familiar within the discourse as that represented by the NP within the by-phrase.
(10)a. The mayor’s present term of office expires Jan. 1. He will be succeeded by Ivan Allen Jr....
b. Ivan Allen Jr. will take office Jan. 1. #The mayor will be succeeded by him.
Again, it’s discourse-status, rather than hearer-status, that is relevant; consider a passive with
(11) A formula to supply players for the new Minneapolis Vikings and the problem of increasing the 1961 schedule to fourteen games will be discussed by National Football League owners at a meeting at the Hotel Warwick today.
[Brown Corpus, discourse-initial]
The discourse-status results for passives (excluding inferrables):
Inversion and passivization share a pragmatic constraint: The initial constituent must not represent information that is less familiar within the discourse than that represented by the final constituent.
Passivization and inversion represent distinct mechanisms for performing a single information-packaging function in different syntactic environments.
So, what about those inferrables?
So far we’ve dealt with information that is either clearly discourse-old or clearly discourse-new, but along with Prince 1992, we’ve left unresolved the issue of information that is “inferrable”.
That information which has not been explicitly evoked from the prior discourse but which can be inferred from previously evoked information.
In inversion and passivization, inferrable information has the same distribution as discourse-old information.
(12)a. She got married recently, and at the wedding was the mother, the stepmother and Debbie.
b. Booked into the lounge at the Fremont Hotel, Wayne and Larry did six shows a night, six nights a week for five years. It was an education that has “lasted up to this day.” In the audience were hecklers and brawlers.
[Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/83]
(13)a. After being closed for seven months, the Garden of the Gods Club will have its gala summer opening Saturday, June 3. Music for dancing will be furnished by Allen Uhles and his orchestra, who will play each Saturday during June.
b. California Democrats this weekend will take the wraps off a 1962 model statewide campaign vehicle which they have been quietly assembling in a thousand district headquarters, party clubrooms and workers’ backyards. They seem darned proud of it. And they’re confident that the GOP, currently assailed by dissensions within the ranks, will be impressed by the purring power beneath the hood of this grassroots- fueled machine.
Inferrables vs. discourse-old:
Collapsing discourse-old and inferrable:
Collapsing discourse-old and inferrable:
So, we can now classify inferrable information as discourse-old with great confidence.
But what about hearer-status?
Is inferrable information hearer-new or hearer-old?
We have a diagnostic to help us decide: the post-verbal position of existential there-sentences is reserved for hearer-new information.
(14)a. There weren’t the funds necessary for the project. [=Abbott 1992, ex. 31a]
b. The audience did not think much of the new pastor, and what the new pastor thought of the audience he did not dare at the time to say. During the next weeks he looked over the situation. First of all there was the parsonage, an utterly impossible place for civilized people to live in, originally poorly conceived, apparently not repaired for years, with no plumbing or sewage, with rat-holes and rot.[Brown Corpus]
c. If the farm is rented, the rent must be paid. If it is owned, taxes must be paid, and if the place is not free of mortgage, there will be interest and payments on the principal to take care of.[Brown Corpus]
In a study of 149 existentials taken from the Brown A Reportage Subcorpus, a trained coder judged that in 38 (25.5%) of the tokens the postverbal NP represented inferrable information.
Let’s recap where we are:
In preposing, inversion, and passivization, inferrable information patterns like discourse-old information.
However, in existential there-sentences, it patterns like hearer-new information.
This suggests inferrable information is discourse-old and hearer-new.
But this is exactly the “empty cell” in Prince’s framework (which didn’t consider inferrables)!
We can account for inferrable information and solve the “empty cell” problem by extending our notion of discourse-old information to include information that is linked to information in the prior discourse.
The link may be one of simple identity, which also requires an inference of sorts:
(15)a. I told the guy at the door to watch out, but the idiot wouldn’t listen. [=Evans 1981, ex. 6]
b. With a degree in Physical Education, Terri Lewis could be coaching a high school volleyball team. Instead, this ranch wife and mother has spent the last three years riding and roping with three other women.... [“Cowgirl Up!”, America’s Horse, 2005]
So, in summary, the class of discourse-old information is defined as information that is inferentially linked to information in the prior discourse.
The inferential relation may or may not be one of identity.
Inferrables are discourse-old (linked to prior discourse) but hearer-new (not previously known to hearer).
For a bridging inferrable, which is hearer-new, how does the hearer know to look for the inferential relation (rather than taking the entity to be brand-new)?
The bridging inferrable may serve to induce the inference, via either its form (e.g. a definite) or its position (noncanonical word order).
Use of a definite NP to induce the inference:
(16) Mary took the picnic supplies out of the trunk. The beer was warm.
(17) Last night I went out to buy the picnic supplies.
a. I decided to get beer first.
b. Beer I decided to get first.
c. I decided to get the beer first.
d. The beer I decided to get first.
Only (a) is ambiguous as to whether the beer is part of the picnic supplies.