Word order, weight, prosody, and information structure in Icelandic

  • Petersen, Hjalmar P. (PI)
  • Dehé, Nichole (PI)
  • Jónsson, Jóhannes G. (PI)
  • Ussery, Cherlon (PI)
  • Sigurðsson , Einar F. (PI)
  • Wood, Jim (PI)

Project Details


The main objective of this project is to explore the interaction between grammatical weight, prosody and information structure in Icelandic through a detailed study of two syntactic constructions: Object Shift (OS) and Heavy NP Shift (HNPS). These two constructions have been chosen because they have been argued to be sensitive to the weight of the displaced constituent as well as information structure. Moreover, they provide a nice point of contrast because OS affects light DPs denoting old information whereas HNPS applies to heavy DPs expressing new information. (In keeping with current theory, we will refer to the moved constituent in HNPS as a DP rather than an NP.) For concreteness, we will assume that the weight of a syntactic string is determined by the number of morphosyntactic words it contains but one of the goals of the current project is to establish the exact factors that determine grammatical weight.
The project aims to answer many specific questions about OS and HNPS in Icelandic (see further at the end of section (b) below) as well as various cross-linguistic questions, e.g. if HNPS and OS in Icelandic are constrained in the same way prosodically and information-structurally as comparable constructions in better studied languages. General theoretical issues relating to the interplay between syntax, prosody and information structure will also be addressed.
This project will be carried out against a background of linguistic studies showing that grammatical weight and information structure are often correlated cross-linguistically. Discourse-new information tends to be expressed with longer and heavier constituents, while discourse-given information is often pronominalized and less likely to be modified (Arnold et al. 2000 among many others). It is also well-known that prosody often signals information status (e.g. focus) of a particular constituent (see b.III below). In this respect, our project will cover familiar ground. On the other hand, its originality stems from the fact that this will be the first study of the interaction between grammatical weight, prosody, and information structure in Icelandic. Since Icelandic has OS of full DPs as well as HNPS applying freely to subjects, unlike e.g. the Mainland Scandinavian languages, it is an ideal language for a study of this kind. Moreover, the phenomena under investigation will be examined in considerable detail through a series of experiments as well as a corpus study. We are not aware of any comparable study for other languages, focusing on weight effects in syntax and how they interact with prosody and information structure and combining experimental and corpus work.
The project will have a significant impact, empirically as well as theoretically. First, it will unearth a wealth of new data on OS and HNPS in Icelandic and these data will inform analyses of these constructions for many years to come. Morever, all the annotated experimental data (see (c) below) will be made publicly available through the Data Archive at the University of Konstanz. Second, the project will bring important theoretical results and raise various theoretical issues on the interplay between word order, prosody information structure across languages. Finally, we hope that the project will inspire researchers to carry out similar studies on other languages.
Effective start/end date1/08/1920/08/22


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