object shift, antecedents,  and information dynamics

Maia Andréasson 

In short

This project investigates the information dynamical aspects of pronominal object shift in the Mainland Scandinavian languages with special focus on a comparative study of Danish and Swedish.

One focus of the study is to uncover the underlying causes of the different shifting properties of pronominal objects with a propositional antecedent and pronominal objects with a referential antecedent.

The first phase of the project spans from Spetember 1st, 2007 to September 30th, 2008. During this period, I have been stationed at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, within the NORMS project. From October 2008, I am at the department of Swedish at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, a four year employment as junior researcher, funded by Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish Research Council.

/Maia Andréasson

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Object shift in Swedish and Danish

The Scandinavian languages are similar in many respects. Their mutual history has resulted in that lexicon and syntactic structures are much alike. These similarities provide an environment where the study of the differences come to resemble a laboratory situation, and the variation can be studied in view of the major part of the grammatical system being constant. The proposed study aims to investigate the information dynamical aspects of pronominal object shift in mainland Scandinavian languages with special focus on a comparative study of Danish and Swedish. The sentence in (1) below, is an example with the pronominal object shifted, i.e. before the negation. In (2) the noun, Philippe, appears after the negation and is hence non-shifted.

Agnes såg honom inte. (Da: Agnes så ham ikke)
Agnes saw him not
’Agnes didn’t see him’
Agnes såg inte Philippe (Da: Agnes så ikke Philippe)
Agnes saw not Philippe
’Agnes didn’t see Philippe’

Pronominal object shift has been the subject of great interest in Germanic and general linguistics. It has been argued that object shift of non-contrasted pronominal objects is obligatory in Danish, but optional in Swedish.

Despite this, there are Danish examples where weak pronouns with propositional antecedents (referring to a clause/verb phrase) appear after a negation (e.g. det in Jeg ved ikke det). These Danish examples have been briefly mentioned as possible counter examples in the literature (cf.
Basbøll 1986, cited in Josefsson 2003), but their individual character as propositional has not been investigated or discussed as such. It is apparently in southern Danish dialects that this is possible according to Pedersen (1993). In her account there are also examples with referential pronouns after sentence adverbials.

In Swedish, like in the above mentioned southern Danish dialects, also weak pronominal objects with referential antecedents (i.e. referring to an entity, as honom/ham above) may appear unshifted. Here, results from the corpus study in my dissertation, concerning a small amount of pronominal objects, show a difference in distribution between referential objects and those representing a proposition, and also a distinct difference in interpretation for shifted and non-shifted pronouns of these categories.

Most of the previous work has relied on speakers' judgements of made-up examples. This study aims to uncover underlying causes of the different shifting properties of the above categories in an extensive corpus study. This has, to my knowledge, never been subject to thorough investigation and the preliminary results mentioned above point to intriguing differences that may not be possible to reveal by mere introspection.

The study will nevertheless consist of two major parts. First, I will perform an extensive corpus study that will result in a broad investigation of object shift in Danish and Swedish written and spoken language. This has not been done before and will be of value to the basic research of word order in the Nordic countries. In addition to this I will elicit speaker judgements from native speakers of Danish and Swedish on examples with object shift from the corpus study.

Preliminary results, September 2008  (Andréasson to appear), show that accessibility (cf. the givenness hierarchy of Gundel, Hedberg & Zacharski 1993) plays a role for object placement. Complements of –FACTIVE predicates seems to be  harder to process than other objects and appear in situ to a greater extent than other pronominal objects (cf. Gundel, Borthen &Fretheim 1999; Hegarty 2003 and other papers of the same authors). It is also of vital interest to take into account not only the shifted and the in situ position, but to investigate which pronominal objects that appear in the initial position in V2 clauses.

The project as described above will span a period of 24 months. The first six months will be devoted to background research, getting access to relevant written and spoken corpora. I will also perform pilot studies for the corpus investigation and for the design and search for reference groups for a spoken questionnaire. The following twelwe months will comprise the corpus investigation and the questionnaire investigation. The last six months will be devoted to analysis of the material and presenting the results at workshops and writing a series of articles.

Selected references 

Andréasson, Maia 2007. Satsadverbial, ledföljd och informationsdynamik i svenskan. (Göteborgsstudier i nordisk språkvetenskap 7). Diss. English summary. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet.

Andréasson, Maia (to appear) Not all objects are born alike – accessibility as a key to pronominal object shift in Swedish and Danish. In: Miriam Butt & Tracy Holloway King (eds.), ;Proceedings of the LFG08 Conference.

Basbøll, Hans 1986. Når genstande bliver så lette at de flyver. I: Mortensen, Finn Hauberg & Povl Schmidt (red.) Profiler. Odense: Odense Universitetsforlag, s. 171–182.

Erteschik-Shir, Nomi 2005. Sound Patterns of Syntax: Object Shift. In: Theoretical Linguistics 31. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. P. 47–93

Frey, Wener 2006. How to get an object-es into the German prefield. In: Patrick Brandt & Eric Fuss (eds.): Form, Structure, and Grammar – A Festschrift Presented to Günther Grewendorf on Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. P. 159–185.

Ginzburg, Jonathan 1996. Interrogatives: Questions, Facts and Dialogue. I: Lappin, Shalom (ed.) 1996. The Handbook of Semantic Theory. Oxford: Blackwell. , s. 385–422.

Ginzburg, Jonathan (forthcoming). A Semantics for Interaction in Dialogue. Stanford & Chicago: CSLI & the University of Chicago Press.

Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg & Ron Zacharski 1993. Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse.  Language, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Jun., 1993), 274–307.

Gundel, Jeanette, Kaja Borthen & Thorstein Fretheim 1999. The Role of Context in Pronominal Reference to Higher Order Entities in English and Norwegian. In: P. Bouquet et al. (Eds.): CONTEXT’99, LNAI 1688. P. 475–478.

Hellan, Lars, & Christer Platzack 1995. Pronouns in Scandinavian languages: an overview. (Working papers in Scandinavian Syntax 56) p. 47–69.

Hegarty, Michael 2003. Semantic types of abstract entities. Lingua \113: 891–927.

Holmberg, Anders. 1986. Word Order and Syntactic Features in the Scandinavian Languages and English. Stockholm: Institutionen för lingvistik, Stockholms universitet.

Holmberg, Anders 1999. Remarks on Holmberg’s Generalization. Studia Linguistica 53, s. 1–39.

Josefsson, Gunlög 1992. Object shift and weak pronominals in Swedish. (Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax 52) p. 1–28.

Josefsson, Gunlög 2003. Four Myths about Object Shift in Swedish – and the Truth... In: Grammar in focus: festschrif t for Christer Platzack 18 November 2003. Vol. II. Lund: Institutionen för nordiska språk, Lunds universitet, p. 199–207.

O’Connor, Robert 2006. Information Structure in Lexical-Functional Grammar: The Discourse-Prosody Correspondence in English and Serbo-Croatian. Diss. Manchester: University of Manchester.

Pedersen, Karen 1993. Letledsreglen og lighedsreglen. Novation, ekspansion og resistens. I: Jyske studier tilegnede Magda Nyberg og Bent Jul Nielsen. København: C.A. Reitzels Forlag. S. 199–218.

Rahkonen, Matti 2000. Topikalisering av icke-subjekt i svenska påståendesatser. En korpusstudie. Språk & stil. Vol. 10, s. 37–85.

Rahkonen, Matti 2006. Some Aspects of Topicalization in Active Swedish Declaratives: A Quantitative Corpus Study. Linguistics. Vol. 44:1, p. 23–55.

Roll, Mikael, Merle Horne and Magnus Lindgren [preprint 2007]. Object Shift and Event-Related Brain Potentials. [Forthc. Elsevier.]

Sells, Peter 2001. Structure, Alignment and Optimality in Swedish. Stanford: CSLI.

Svenonius, Peter 2002. Subject positions and the placement of adverbials. In: Peter Svenonius (ed.), Subject, predicates and the EPP. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 199–240.

Teleman, Ulf, Staffan Hellberg and Erik Andersson 1999. Swedish Academy grammar. Stockholm: Norstedts.

Vallduví, Enric & Elisabet Engdahl 1996. The Linguistic Realization of Information Packaging. Linguistics 34:3, p. 459–519.

Vikner, Sten 1994. Scandinavian object shift and West Germanic scrambling. In: Norbert Corver & Henk van Riemsdijk (eds.), Studies on scrambling: movement and non-movement approaches to free word order phenomena. Berlin: Mouton de Gryuter, p. 487–517.

Vikner, Sten. 1997. The interpretation of object shift, Optimality Theory, and Minimalism. (Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax 60) p. 1–24.

Project plan

From October 2008 to autumn 2012: University of Gothenburg, Department of Swedish.

Work in progress

 Work log:

http://objektsskifte.blogspot.com/ If you would like to get access to my work log – now in English! – and follow the work, please contact me.

Presentations and publications

Objekt og objekt. Presentation at MUDS 2008 (Møde om udforskningen af det danske sprog, 'Meeting concerning the research of the Danish language), language: Danish.

You find the hand-out from the presentation at NORMS Grand Meeting at Sandbjerg in August 2008 here.

Not all objects are born alike – accessibility as a key to pronominal object shift in Swedish and Danish. (To appear) In: Miriam Butt & Tracy Holloway King (eds.), Proceedings of the LFG08 Conference.

Pronominal object shift and accessibility in Swedish and Danish. (Article in preparation) Manuscript, University of Gothenburg.

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Please contact me if you want to get access to these articles as drafts.

Some initial remarks

”While I was going through all the texts in the corpus I used for my thesis, I stumbled across something I hadn't noticed or heard about before. As a matter of fact I was also, somewhere in the back of my head, contemplating the ongoing debate within LFG on whether the functional category COMP (for clausal complements) is actually needed or if it's possible to do without it.”

”The thing is that pronominal objects with clausal – or should I say propositional – antecedents seem to behave somewhat differently from pronominal objects with referential antecedents in Swedish. Interestingly, I noticed that some Danish counter examples in the literature to the obligatory object shift are objects with clausal antecendents. And this is briefly what this project is about.”