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Bryan Donaldson: "Information structure and word order in medieval Occitan"

October 29, 2014 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm  |  Stevenson Fireside Lounge


In this talk, I draw on elements of discourse analysis and information structure–specifically topic-marking–to address a long-standing problem in the syntax of Old Occitan, a medieval Romance language spoken in what is now the south of France. In Old Occitan, the position of object and adverbial clitic (weak, atonic) pronouns remains incompletely understood (Wanner 2010). I analyze clitic position specifically in affirmative main declarative sentences that contain overt preverbal subjects. In this context, clitics are either preverbal, as in (1), or post verbal, as in (2), with no apparent semantic distinction.

(1) E.N Constantis s’en anet.
and.Sir Constantine himself.from-there went
‘And Sir Constantine left.’ (Razo of 80,20 & 80,32 §8; Boutière 1964: 92)

(2) E.N Guilhem anet. s’en.
and.Sir Guillaume went himself.from-there
‘And Sir Guillaume left.’ (Razo of 208,1, §34; Boutière 1964: 325)

Previous analyses have concluded that this variation is random (Mériz 1978) or du to regional or dialectal variation (Hinzelin 2007). Neither approach satisfactorily addresses the underlying grammar or the principles underlying the distribution of the variants appears. The present analysis draws on the discourse-functional notion of topic (e.g., Reinhart 1981) as well as theoretical claims about the clausal left periphery in medieval Romance (Benincà 2006). I report empirical data from the complete troubadour biographies (vidas and razos; 13th-14th centuries) and the vida of Saint Douceline (early 14th century). Results from 470 subject-verb declaratives establish that the subject in (2) is left-dislocated, albeit covertly so. I argue that (2) is one of several instantiations of subject left-dislocation in Old Occitan and that it is both functionally and formally distinct from (1). More precisely, (1) signals topic continuity, whereas (2) is a shifting topic.

Bryan Donaldson is Assistant Professor of Languages and French Applied Linguistics at UC Santa Cruz.


October 29, 2014
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
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Stevenson Fireside Lounge
Humanites 1 University of California, Santa Cruz Cowell College
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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