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Discourse-related features and functional projections by Silvio Cruschina (review)

From: Language
Volume 89, Number 1, March 2013
pp. 175-179 | 10.1353/lan.2013.0000

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Sicilian, together with Sardinian, stands out among Romance languages for certain peculiarities in word-order patterns. In Sicilian the marked pattern usually known as focus fronting (FF) can express contrastive focus, like in other Romance varieties, but also noncontrastive, informational focus. A speaker may answer a question like Who is it? by resorting to FF, as in Montalbano sono 'It's Montalbano'. This makes Sicilian a very interesting source of data for recent theories on focus and information structure. In Discourse-related features and functional projections, originally his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge University, Silvio Cruschina investigates marked word-order patterns in Sicilian and Romance from the perspective of modern cartographic approaches to clausal structure. The book, released in March 2012, consists of six chapters plus three indices. It is clearly written and very well organized, so that even the most technical sections are quite accessible to the reader. Though it focuses on syntax, rich and detailed observations on interpretive matters and the role of pragmatics can be found in every section.

Ch. 1 begins with a useful review of the basic notions of topic, information focus, and contrastive focus, and their implementation in syntax as formal features. It also contains a presentation of the cartographic project in current generative grammar, with particular attention to Rizzi's (1997) proposals. The cartographic approach is characterized by the prominent role of functional projections in determining both semantic interpretation and crosslinguistic variation. Movement is feature-driven: it is triggered by syntactic features situated in functional heads such as topic and focus, associated with specific discourse-related interpretive effects (discourse-related features). A family of principles called CRITERIA in Rizzi 1997 and subsequent work ensures that, if a feature appears on a head, there must be local agreement between the head and a phrase endowed with the same feature in the corresponding specifier. As the author explicitly states, 'the primary purpose of the volume is to provide additional empirical evidence in favor of a feature-driven approach, and specifically Rizzian Criteria approach' (31). It is not among my goals here to discuss the pros and cons of C's theoretical framework: I simply assume that it is worth exploring its possibilities and consequences for the study of word order and information structure.

Once the theoretical framework has been established, Ch. 2 presents a detailed description of Sicilian word-order variation and how it corresponds to information structure. According to C, Sicilian is a discourse-configurational language in which a bundle of discourse-related features fully determines word order. The first salient property of Sicilian is that nonfocal constituents must be obligatorily dislocated and linked to resumptive clitics, as stated by the principle of SYNTACTIC EXTRAPOSITION (22; perhaps DISLOCATION could have been a more appropriate term). A comparison between Sicilian and Italian shows that Italian exhibits a weaker version of the condition on extraposition, allowing for in-situ destressed constituents (marginalization) and left dislocation of prepositional phrases without resumption (simple preposing), which are excluded in Sicilian. The second salient property of Sicilian, shared with Sardinian, is that FF is not exclusively related to contrastive focus, but involves informational focus as well, as in the following examples.


  1. a.   A  frevi aju.
    the fever have.PRES.1SG
    'I have a temperature.'

  2. b.   Sissi, cuntenti sugnu!
    yes   glad     be.PRES.1SG
    'Yes indeed, I am glad!'

    This kind of noncontrastive FF, usually unavailable in other Romance varieties, is possible in different sentence types and with different categories. It is mostly used in yes-no questions, in exclamatives, and in answers to questions. As an optional syntactic strategy, it conveys extra interpretive effects that are absent from its counterparts without fronting. C globally characterizes such effects as 'emphasis'. They vary from anger, concern, or fright to surprise, incredulity, and unexpectedness. FF in fact counts as a mark of mirativity in many cases, even in sentences that express wide focus (70-71), which, incidentally, seems to be incompatible with the very notion of FF. C addresses the natural question that such variety of contextual values raises—that is, what is behind them?—and suggests a solution in terms of 'relevance': if the relevance of a piece of information...

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