Stadt: Tallinn, Estland

Frist: 2017-11-01

Beginn: 2018-08-29

Ende: 2018-09-01

Deadline for abstract submission: 1 November 2017
Send your abstract to:

Workshop description

In languages with Subject Verb word order, preverbal subjects tend to be definite rather than indefinite (e.g. Givón 1976, 1978; Leonetti 1998). However, the acceptability and frequency of preverbal indefinite subjects (henceforth PIS) vary cross-linguistically. For instance, it is reported that PIS are hardly acceptable in spoken French (1) (Lambrecht 1988, 1994; Van De Velde 2005; Cappeau & Deulofeu 2006; Cappeau 2008; Dobrovie-Sorin & Beyssade 2012), whereas they are much less problematic in English (see translation in (1)).

(1) ? Un ami m’a apporté ce livre.
‘A friend brought me that book.’
(Cappeau & Deulofeu 2001:4, our translation)

The awkwardness of (1) may be related to the fact that in French (as in other discourse-configurational languages), preverbal subjects are usually discourse-given and topical in the sense of ‘that which the sentence is about’ (Givón 1976). Indefinite constituents, however, generally refer to discourse-new referents and are dispreferred as topics. As a consequence, speakers of French make extensive use of ‘presentational constructions’ such as the il y a cleft in order to introduce discourse-new, indefinite constituents (Lambrecht 2002; Karssenberg 2016, 2017; Karssenberg & Lahousse 2017).

(2) Il y a une voiture qui se fait remorquer par une dépanneuse dans le parking…
‘There’s a car that’s getting towed by a tow truck in the parking lot.’
(Karssenberg 2017:183)

In a similar vein, although PIS are acceptable in Dutch when accompanied by prosodic stress (3a), other presentational constructions, such as “er is + NP + VP” can also be used in order to introduce discourse-new indefinite referents (3b).

(3) a. IEMAND heeft koffie over haar arm gemorst.
SOMEONE has coffee over her arm spilled.
“Someone spilled coffee over her arm.”
b. Er is een trein ontspoord.
There is a train derailed.
“A train has derailed.”
(Belligh 2016)

Other licensing conditions have also been reported. For instance, Cheng & Downing (2014) argue that PIS in Durban Zulu (see (4)) can be accounted for in terms of the presence of a presupposition of existence rather than the opposition topical/non-topical.

(4) úúma ámá-nye ámá-phutha á-bálúlékiile, ngéké sí-khíphe lencwáadi
if 6-some 6-error 6SUBJ-be.major.tam never we-publish
‘If (some) mistakes are major, we will never publish this book.’
(Cheng & Downing 2014:20)

The goal of this workshop is to bring together insights about PIS in different languages with SV word order, in order to come to a better understanding of the acceptability and frequency of PIS and their licensing conditions. Questions we intend to address in this workshop include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Which types of PIS are acceptable in languages with SV word order (e.g. indefinite pronouns, partitive or quantified NPs…)?
  • What is the distribution of PIS across different genres/usage contexts (e.g. newspaper vs. online forum, spoken vs. written) of a given language?
  • Which are the (semantic, morphosyntactic, information structural) licensing factors for PIS?
  • To what extent do licensing conditions for PIS vary cross-linguistically?
  • How can cross-linguistic differences in the acceptability and/or frequency of PIS be explained?
  • How can different methodological approaches (e.g. corpus linguistic methods, experimental approaches) be combined to gain a deeper and more complete insight into PIS?

We welcome contributions about all languages with SV word order and we are particularly interested in analyses that are based on empirical work (corpus research, experimental studies).

Abstract submission

Please send an abstract of max. 300 words (excluding references) that clearly states the research questions, data analysis and results to before November 1st 2017.

Convenors: Lena Karssenberg (KU Leuven) & Laura Rosseel (KU Leuven/ University of Cologne)


Belligh, Thomas. 2016. The influence of activation status on the Dutch presentational alternation. Paper presented at the International workshop on non-prototypical clefts, KU leuven, 15/12/2016.
Cappeau, Paul. 2008. Il manque des indéfinis ! Ou comment l’oral nous oblige à revoir la description des indéfinis. Le français aujourd’hui 162(3). 73-83.
Cappeau, Paul & José Deulofeu. 2001. Partition et topicalisation: Il y en a “stabilisateur” de sujets et de topiques indéfinis. Cahiers de praxématique 37. 45-82.
Cappeau, Paul & José Deulofeu. 2006. Les “indéfinis” en relation avec la position sujet dans trois types de constructions prédicatives. In Actes du colloque de Paris Prédication et Indéfinis, 125-138. Paris: Presses Universitaires de Paris Sorbonne.
Cheng, Lisa L. S. & Laura J. Downing. 2014. Indefinite subjects in Durban Zulu. In Proceedings of the Workshop BantuSynPhonIS, Vol. 57, 5-25. Berlin: Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft.
Dobrovie-Sorin, Carmen & Claire Beyssade. 2012. Redefining indefinites. Dordrecht: Springer.
Givón, Talmy. 1976. Topic, pronoun, and grammatical agreement. In Charles N. Li (ed.), Subject and topic, 151-188. New York: Academic Press.
Givón, Talmy. 1978. Definiteness and referentiality. In Joseph H. Greenberg, Charles A. Ferguson & Edith A. Moravcsik (eds.), Universals of human language, Vol. 4, 291-330. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Karssenberg, Lena. 2016. French il y a clefts, existential sentences and the focus-marking hypothesis. Journal of French Language Studies. 1-26.
Karssenberg, Lena. 2017. Ya les oiseaux qui chantent. A corpus analysis of French il y a clefts. KU Leuven PhD dissertation.
Karssenberg, Lena & Karen Lahousse. 2017. Les SN définis et indéfinis dans les clivées en il y a. In Caroline Lachet, Luis Meneses-Lerín & Audrey Roig (eds.), Contraintes linguistiques. À propos de la complémentation nominale, 197-210. Brussels: PIE Peter Lang.
Lambrecht, Knud. 1988. Presentational cleft constructions in spoken French. In John Haiman & Sandra A. Thompson (eds.), Clause combining in grammar and discourse, 135-179. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Lambrecht, Knud. 1994. Information structure and sentence form: Topic, focus and the mental representations of discourse referents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lambrecht, Knud. 2002. Topic, focus and secondary predication. The French presentational relative construction. In Claire Beyssade, Reineke Bok-Bennema, Frank Drijkoningen & Paola Monachesi (eds.), Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2000, 171-212. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Leonetti, Manuel. 1998. A Relevance-theoretic account of the property predication restriction. In Villy Rouchota & Andreas H. Jucker (eds.), Current issues in Relevance Theory, 141-167. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Van De Velde, Danièle. 2005. Les interprétations partitive et existentielle des indéfinis dans les phrases existentielles locatives. Travaux de linguistique 50(1). 37-52.

Beitrag von: Lena Karssenberg

Redaktion: Marcel Schmitt