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Changing the Topic

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Topic Position in Ancient Greek Word Order

image of Mnemosyne

AbstractIn Ancient Greek, topics can be expressed as intra-clausal constituents but they can also precede or follow the main clause as extra-clausal constituents. Together, these various topic expressions constitute a coherent system of complementary pragmatic functions. For a comprehensive account of topic organization, therefore, a limited focus on the clause proper is insufficient. In this paper, I will argue that it is possible to distinguish five different structural positions in which topic constituents may appear in Ancient Greek. These are: (i) Theme, (ii) clause-initial, (iii) postverbal in Setting, (iv) postverbal in main clause and (v) Tail. Each of these positions in the sentence is associated with a specific pragmatic function: Resumed Topic, Contrastive/New Topic, Given Topic or clarification of Given Topic. In linguistic theory, topic and focus are often seen as independent aspects of information structure instead of complementary functions. It is, therefore, attractive to posit two separate sets of constructional templates: on the one hand, a topic set comprising the aforementioned topic constructions and, on the other hand, a focus set containing two (narrow and broad) focus-constructions. This results in a flexible system in which the word order of each sentence is determined by a combination of a focus construction plus one or more topic constructions.

Affiliations: 1: VU University, Dept. of


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