Pragmatics of New Topics

Bryan Rocine brocine at
Thu Aug 26 20:20:43 EDT 1999

Hi Matthew,

you wrote:

> Dik(1997:316) states that "New Topics across languages
have a strong
> preference for taking a relatively late position in the
clause." He gives
> exmaples from English, French, and Russian. A clear
example of this in my
> view in BH is in Ruth 2:19:
> shem ha'ish 'asher 'asithi
> who I.worked
> `immi hayyom    bo`az
> with.him today [is].Boaz
> Boaz is a new topic *to Naomi*, obviously not to the
reader. My question is,
> do others think that BH generally introduces new topics
this way, by
> shifting the new topic to a late position in the clause?
Can anyone think of
> other examples of this of the top of their head? Are there
any clear
> counter-examples.

My suspicion is that there is nothing particularly marked
about the word order in your example.  Pragmatically, it
seems like Naomi is the introducer of the topic for
discussion.  Within its sentence, I believe that shem ha'ish
is the subject in the sense of the known (Ruth has pointed
out Boaz, and Naomi, of course, knows that most guys have
names) and that the dependent clause aids in identifying the
topic since they haven't proceeded far enough into the
discussion in order to have built up a context.  The name
Boaz is the new information in the sentence, and so
qualifies as the sentence's predicate.  I believe this
suggestion, that shem ha'ish is the subject and Boaz is the
predicate does not contradict the findings of Kirk Lowery
that the subject of a verbless clause is generally the
relatively more definite than the predicate, or that a
proper noun is more definite than a noun + article + noun.
I think, in a construction like this, that a proper noun has
a little different value since it refers not to a person but
to a person's name.

As for the functional shifting of a clause elements:  for a
functional analysis of S-P v. P-S order in verbless clauses,
you may check out Randy Buth's 1999 "Word order in the
verbless clause: A generative-functional approach" in _The
verbless clause in BH: Linguistic approaches_. As for the
functional value of clause with verbs: aside from the
promotion of a clause element to a pre-verbal position for
which we have often discussed the discourse ramifications, a
good study of post verbal word order from a discourse
analytical view is Lode's 1984 "Postverbal word order in BH"
_Semitics X_ .


B. M. Rocine
Associate Pastor
Living Word Church
6101 Court St. Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13206

(office) 315.437.6744
(home) 315.479.8267

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