Expression of information structure in West Slavic: Modeling the impact of prosodic and word-order factors


The received wisdom is that word-order alternations in Slavic languages arise as a direct consequence of word-order-related information-structure constraints such as ‘Place given expressions before new ones’. In this article, we compare the word-order hypothesis with a competing one, according to which word-order alternations arise as a consequence of a prosodic constraint: ‘Avoid stress on given expressions’. Based on novel experimental and modeling data, we conclude that the prosodic hypothesis is more adequate than the word-order hypothesis. Yet we also show that combining the strengths of both hypotheses provides the best fit for the data. Methodologically, our article is based on gradient acceptability judgments and multiple regression, which allows us to evaluate whether violations of generalizations like ‘Given precedes new’ or ‘Given lacks stress’ lead to a consistent decrease in acceptability and to quantify the size of their respective effects. Focusing on the empirical adequacy of such generalizations rather than on specific theoretical implementations also makes it possible to bridge the gap between different linguistic traditions and to directly compare predictions emerging from formal and functional approaches.