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Title: A phase-based approach to Russian free word order
Authors: Dyakonova, Marina
Keywords: Indo-European Languages
Balto-Slavic Languages
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: LOT
Abstract: The present thesis is an attempt to provide a syntactic account of the word order freedom in Russian, a discourse configurational language. A number of analyses have been proposed until now (King 1995, Bailyn 1995a, 2003, 2004, Junghanns and Zybatow 1997, Sekerina 1997, Rodionova 2001, van Gelderen 2003, Pereltsvaig 2004, Slioussar 2007, among others), some of which will be discussed in this work. However, the issue is still far from being resolved and there are some questions to be answered yet. There is unanimity among researchers working on the topic that word order permutations in Russian are always associated with certain interpretive effects, often referred to as Information Structure (IS) packaging. However, it remains highly debated whether displacement operations, which produce various surface structures, are IS-related (e.g. triggered by Topic, Focus, and the like) or are forced by some purely grammatical considerations (e.g. [EPP]- feature on some independently necessary functional projections), with the pragmatic effects being a by-product. In the latter case the interpretive effects turn out to be parasitic on the way some formal features are checked in narrow syntax. This work is another contribution to this on-going debate, which hopefully opens some new insights on the problem. The questions that initiated the present research are (i) provided that the distribution of topical and focal information in a Russian sentence is edge-oriented (Topic is sentence-initial and Focus is sentence-final), can we characterize the observed permutations as linear (PF) phenomena, devoid of any deep syntactic motivation? (ii) if syntax happens to play a role in encoding IS-related information, does it have a direct access to this type of information or do the IS effects arise as a by-product of some IS-independent operations (e.g. some formal feature checking)? (iii) since the computation is argued to proceed cyclically, i.e. by phase (Chomsky 2001), does it mean that IS-related information is relevant at the phase rather than at the clausal level? (iv) because word order variations in Russian are often treated as optional, is it possible to reconcile the syntax of Russian with the recently developed theory whereby any syntactic operation is motivated by feature checking? These questions will be the catalyst in our investigation. In this introductory chapter I present some background information which I consider useful for understanding the data and the analysis. Since the discussion will be centered on Russian, I first provide a concise description of the Russian morphosyntax to familiarize the reader with the language. In doing that, I concentrate on the issues that relate to the topic of the research, i.e. word order and scrambling, leaving other important details aside. As stated earlier, any analysis of Russian word order heavily relies on IS notions such as Topic and Focus, which until now lack an unanimously accepted definition. For the sake of clarity, in section 1.2 I explain what is meant by Topic and Focus in the present thesis. Finally, in section 1.3 I lay out the major theoretical assumptions adopted in this work related to the structure derivation and the role of IS in this process.
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