Dr. Svitlana Antonyuk
I am a Lise Meitner Senior Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institut für Slawistik and Institut für Germanistik at the University of Graz, employed as a Principal Investigator in the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) project M 3361-G "Deriving Dicourse Configurationality of (East) Slavic", hosted by Prof. Onea of the Institut für Germanistik.
About the project:
One of the most easily observable ways in which human languages differ from each other is their word order, or the order in which a sentence’s subject, object, verb and other syntactic constituents are arranged relative to each other. Identifying the principles underlying such cross-linguistic differences is one of the tasks of modern linguistics. Another is to explain the relation between observed word orders of a language and the semantics they express. “Free” word order languages such as Ukrainian and Russian, in which permutation of syntactic constituents within a sentence is extremely common, along with other Slavic languages belong to the group of so-called Discourse Configurational Languages. These are languages where permutations in word order bring about changes in the sentence’s information packaging, encoding such notions as topicality, givenness, specificity or presuppositionality.
A curious challenge for linguistic theory is linked to the well-known empirical observation that such changes in word order, despite being important for encoding information structure-relevant notions, are nevertheless optional, i.e., the same semantics can be expressed without permuting the word order of a sentence. This latter property, known as the optionality of syntactic movement, which has been especially difficult to capture in formal linguistic frameworks, is the focus of the present project, which hypothesizes several reasons for such optionality.
We hypothesize that for various word orders in Ukrainian and Russian, which we concentrate on, there is an additional means of signaling the same information structural notions, namely prosody, or intonation. In other words, if this hypothesis is correct, there may not be true optionality of syntactic movement to speak of, there is only a choice for the speaker regarding how to encode the intended semantics, via syntactic means (permutation of word order), or via prosodic means (adjustment of prosody). That this hypothesis may be correct is suggested by recent work on Ukrainian Object Shift, a syntactic operation that obligatorily encodes partitivity/specificity semantics for the shifted object, where prosodic encoding is shown to function as an alternative to the syntactic operation of Object Shift. Another hypothesis that could account for at least some of the empirical data is that syntactic labels such as SVO, SOV, OVS, VSO (which are used to mark different relative ordering of Subject, Object and Verb as the main sentence constituents) are non-unique identifiers, meaning that behind each label there could be multiple or at least non-unique mappings of syntactic structure to prosodic contour and information structure. Finally, we hypothesize that two syntactic operations, Argument Inversion and Object Shift, identified through earlier work, constitute the syntactic core of the permuted word orders in question, thus to a large extent accounting for the greater flexibility of word order in these and other discourse configurational Slavic languages that set them apart from fixed word order languages such as English.
The findings of the project are expected to have important implications not only for the rest of the Slavic language family, but also for languages with the more restricted freedom of word order permutations, by improving our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning word order permutability and their restrictions.
Learn more about the project here.
Svitlana AntonyukInstitut für Slawistik
Institut für Slawistik