Givenness and Word Order

Elena Seoane

in Information Structure and Syntactic Change in the History of English

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860210
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949601 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in the History of English

Givenness and Word Order

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There is no consensus on how to define the notion of givenness, also referred to as degree of familiarity, inferability, referentiality, and so on. This chapter analyzes and compares two of the most influential accounts of givenness. First, that of Prince and her followers, who believe that the factors determining an entity as given are both linguistic and extralinguistic, and who therefore take into account a complex interplay of factors when assessing the degree of givenness of a particular entity, such as prior mention, inferability from a previously mentioned entity, and whether it is retrievable from knowledge of the world. Second is the so-called distance approach, defended principally by Givón, which takes only textual criteria into account. This approach measures degree of givenness in terms of the co-occurrence of the entity in its particular discourse domain, which can be seven, ten, or indeed twenty clauses long, depending on the author. The chapter assesses the validity of these two notions of givenness as applied to one construction in particular, the long passive (as in John was arrested by the police), an order-reversal device determined in part by the tendency for speakers to comply with the given-before-new principle. The findings of a corpus study carried out here makes clear the methodological shortcomings of both approaches, yet also demonstrates the evident theoretical superiority and greater efficiency of Prince's approach in determining the degree of givenness, in that it is capable of explaining data which Givón's approach leaves unaccounted for.

Keywords: giveness; distance approach; entity; discourse; long passive; Prince; Givón

Chapter.  12069 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Linguistics

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