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Grammatical sketch of Beng

Information structure

Section 14
Denis Paperno
p. 101-105

Texte intégral

1This section gives a preliminary overview of the ways to express information structure in Beng. I do not attempt to undertake a proper semantic analysis of the constructions in question, only providing their rough equivalents in English.

2Usually, a constituent F marked for its information structure status is located before the rest of the sentence S. If F is a verb phrase, which has to take the form of nominalization when topicalized or focalized, compare (266), F is replaced in the main clause S by the verb wō ‘to do’ in the appropriate form with a 3sg pronoun as a direct object. If F is a nominal or an adverbial constituent, the position that the constituent F would have occupied in a communicatively neutral sentence S’ is left filled by a coreferent personal pronoun, except for the secondary object position from which personal pronouns are banned. Examples:

(266a)

Top[Sàāŋ̀

yrí

lɛ̀]i

Foc[bàāŋ̀

wó]k

ɲɛ̰̄

[òi

bà Øk]

ɛ̄.

saang

tree

Def

dry.season

IN

Foc

3sg:Hab+

yield:L

Foc

‘It’s during the dry season that the sàāŋ̀ tree yields fruit’.

(266b)

[Pḭ̀ŋ́

cḭ́-lɛ́]i

ɲɛ̰̄

[ó

i

wò]

ɛ̄.

grass

cut-Nmlz

Foc

3sg:Pst+

3sg

do:L

Foc

‘It’s mow that he did’.

  • 1 An anonymous reviewer notes that example 267 might not illustrate topicalization but a special corr (...)

3The case described above, where the pragmatically marked constituent F can be inserted into a vacant position in the sentence S, is typical but far from universal. In reality many examples would not support such insertion. Sometimes the position in S is filled by a full-fledged syntactic constituent coreferent to F1:

(267)

[Zrɛ̈

fɛ̰̄

mḭ̄-ó

yé]i

mḭ̀

mḭ̄

[zrɛ̈

bì-ɛ̀]i

yā.

road

Rel

2sg-St+

3sg

mouth

2sg:Hab+

2sg

road

this-Def

walk

‘The road you stand on, walk this road’.

4Second, the position F can host a whole clause that cannot be substituted for any constituent in S, compare a typical folktale ending:

(268)

[Nà̰

gā̰mlà̰

nṵ̄

gṵ̄à̰

klɛ́ŋ́

ná̰]Top

for.to

chimpanzee

3sg:Hab+

come

stay

forest

IN

Top

[à

dḭ́-lɛ

ó

bɔ́

kpḭ̀ŋ́

mà̰]Foc

3sg

cause-Def

3sg:Pst+

come.from:L

door

CONT

ɲɛ̰̄

gā̰mlà̰

ó

gṵ́à̰

klɛ́ŋ́

ɛ̄.

Foc

chimpanzee

3sg:Pst+

stay:L

forest

IN

Foc

5‘So Chimpanzee stayed in the forest because of the story with the door’ (literally: topic ‘For Chimpanzee to come and stay in the forest’, focus ‘the reason for this comes from the door’, main clause ‘(that) Chimpanzee stayed in the forest’).

6Example (268) is quite typical: the content of a sentence can be divided entirely into the topic and the focus; the topic and the focus (expressed here as full clauses) are marked appropriately, followed by a syntactically obligatory but semantically redundant main clause that basically repeats the topic.

14.1. Topic

7Let us now turn to specific information structure marking constructions of Beng. The first one, topic, is expressed by particle ná̰ placed after the topicalized phrase F that precedes the main clause S.

8Information structure notions are notoriously hard to characterize precisely. The topicalized phrase F in Beng signals the theme of utterance, its ‘aboutness’. In English, one analog of the Beng topic is the sentence-initial position of sentential modifiers as in At the lab we conducted a few experiments (as opposed to the more neutral We conducted a few experiments at the lab). Examples of topics:

(269)

[Gblē

ná̰]

tòŋòbî

plāŋ̄

ŋó

pá

cēŋ̄

mà̰.

yesterday

Top

car

two

3pl:Pst+

hit:L

each.other

CONT

Yesterday two cars collided’.

(270)

[Ŋ̄

drɔ̀ɲḭ́

púú

lɛ̀]i

gblí

dṵ̄-nā̰

i

wó.

1sg

shirt

white

Def

dirt

get.in-Prf

3sg

IN

‘My white shirt got dirty’. (lit.: ‘My white shirt, dirt got in it’.)

9As (270) shows, the topic marker ná̰ is sometimes omitted. Conditioning factors for its omission are yet to be studied. I observe preliminarily that topicalized noun phrases tend to be unmarked, while other types of constituents, in particular adverbial phrases (including temporal and locative) tend to have an overt topic marker.

14.2. Contrastive topic

10The contrasted NP, which can be doubled by personal pronouns following general rules, occupies the possessor position of the vacuous noun pɔ̄ ‘thing’ which is followed either by the definite article lɛ̀ or by drɛ̄ ná̰ and the main clause S. Contrastive topics do not have to be full NPs but can also be pronominal; combinations of personal pronouns with pɔ̄ ‘thing’ are possessive pronouns, in which the final /ŋ/ obligatorily (1sg) or optionally (1pl) fuses with the initial /p/ (mɔ̄, ā̰ŋ̄pɔ̄//ā̰mɔ̄). pɔ̄ lɛ̀ can be translated ‘as for’; pɔ̄ drɛ̄ ná̰ marks contrastive change of topic, translated roughly ‘and as for’:

(271)

Mɔ̄

lɛ̀

ŋ́

nṵ̄-nā̰.

1sg:Pos

Def

1sg:Pst+

come-Prf

‘As for me, I have come’.

(272)

Dóbǎ

pɔ̄

lɛ̀

wà

fà̰

gblɛ̰̌-ɛ̀n

monkey

Pos

Def

3sg:Hab+3

crack:L

squirrel-Def

pɔ̄

drɛ̄

ná̰

wà

sò

lóló

wē.

Pos

Emph

Top

3sg:Hab+3

chew:L

on.top

there

{in a discussion of animals that steal corn} ‘Monkeys tear it apart and squirrels eat it on trees’.

14.3. Focus construction

11The focused constituent F is marked by a postposed particle ɲɛ̰̄ and the main sentence S is followed by particle ɛ̄ or nâ̰, so the two markers of focus embrace the main sentence. Analogs of focus construction in English are sentence-level pitch accent and it-clefts. Example of a focus structure:

(273)

[Gbè

bɛ́~bɛ̄

ŋò

yé]i

ná̰

[síéɲá̰á̰ŋ́tīī

village

big~Pl

3pl

mouth

Top

coal

lō]j

ɲɛ̰̄

[ŋò

síé

tù Øj Øi]

ɛ̄,

with

Foc

3pl:Hab+

fire

plant:L

Foc

[gbè

plé~plé

ɛ̀

ŋò

yé]i

ná̰

[wlàŋ̀

village

small~Pl

Def

3pl

mouth

Top

wood

lō]j

ɲɛ̰̄

[ŋò

síé

tù Øj Øi]

ɛ̄.

with

Foc

3pl:Hab+

fire

plant:L

Foc

‘In towns, they make fire with coal; in villages, they make fire with wood’.

12The focused construction accompanied by preposed sá̰pē ‘except’ expresses the meaning of ‘only’ in Beng:

(274)

Sá̰pē

wálɛ́

ɲɛ̰̄

mà̰

blè

ɛ̄.

except

yam

Foc

1sg:Hab+3

eat:L

Foc

‘I eat only yams’.

14.4. Non-syntactic expression of emphasis

13The semantic effect comparable to that of topicalization and focalization can also be achieved by other means, in particular, by independent personal pronouns (pronouns of the focus series) in situ, i.e. in a regular NP position rather than in a topicalized or focalized position. Independent pronouns in NP positions are accompanied in NP positions by pronoun doubling, compare:

(275)

Sēsē

mḭ̄ā̰

mḭ̄

sò.

every

3sg:Hab+

2sg:Emph

2sg

chew:L

‘You, everyone bites’. or ‘It’s you that everyone bites’.

(276)

Mḭ̄ā̰

mḭ́

nṵ̄-nā̰.

2sg:Emph

2sg:Pst+

come-Prf

‘You, you came’.

(277)

À̰ɲā̰

nṵ̄-nā̰.

3sg:Emph

3sg:Pst+

come-Prf

‘Him, he came’ or ‘It is him who came’.

14Exceptions to overt pronoun doubling are 1sg and 3sg pronouns that are not doubled by overt non-subject series of pronouns, apparently for phonological reasons.

15The dectic marker blɔ̄ ‘right here’, ‘right there’ used after a locative phrase has a similar effect to focusing the locative phrase:

(278)

Lɔ́mléŋ

nṵ̀ŋ̀

ŋó

kpɛ̰́

ɲémán

blɔ̄

gblē.

children

PL

3pl:Pst+

play:L

1sg:before

there.Foc

yesterday

‘Children played right in front of my door yesterday’.

(279)

Ŋò

klá

mḭ̄

dḭ́

blɔ̄.

3pl

put

2sg

APUD

here.Foc

‘Put them right in front of you’.

(280)

Kàlà

bɛ́ɛ̄

lɛ̀

ò-ó

blɔ̄.

old

big

Def

3sg-St+

there.Foc

‘The elder is right there’, compare

(281)

Kàlà

bɛ́ɛ̄

lɛ̀

ò-ó

wē.

old

big

Def

3sg-St+

there

‘The elder is there’.

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Notes

1 An anonymous reviewer notes that example 267 might not illustrate topicalization but a special correlative construction. Indeed, as discussed in 13.6 above, fronted relative constructions in Beng can have special properties, such as availability of complementizer dɛ́ɛ̄ ‘if’ and possibility of head-internal structure. These properties can be seen as manifesting an independent correlative construction. On the other hand, in most cases correlatives are indistinguishable from the topicalization of an NP with a relative clause, and even, as argued in 13.6, the main relativization strategy probably arose in Beng through a reinterpretation of the correlative construction as a topicalized NP with a relative clause.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Denis Paperno, « Information structure », Mandenkan, 51 | 2014, 101-105.

Référence électronique

Denis Paperno, « Information structure », Mandenkan [En ligne], 51 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : http://mandenkan.revues.org/570 ; DOI : 10.4000/mandenkan.570

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Auteur

Denis Paperno

University of Trento, Italy
denis.paperno@gmail.com

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Les contenus de Mandenkan sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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