Renato Lacerda

Ph.D. student of Linguistics

University of Connecticut


*I read, by Chomsky,

two books.

The sentence above is perfectly well-formed in my native language, Brazilian Portuguese:

Eu li, do Chomsky, dois livros.

And it has a special meaning, whereby Chomsky is chosen among possible alternatives, say a list of relevant authors.

It is as though I were answering the question "How many books did you read?", but not quite - in fact, by only saying how many books by Chomsky I read. I leave it implicit that I read other books by other authors.

Chomsky is a great linguist and social critic elsewhere, but here he is a contrastive topic.

And more: Chomsky is a contrastive topic in the middle field of the sentence. Were Chomsky to stay in his original position, he would still be a linguist, but no longer a contrastive topic:

Eu li dois livros do Chomsky.

Here, I no longer imply that I read other books by other authors.

By doing a small change to the structure of the sentence, the information it conveyed changed too, even though the two sentences basically say the same thing: I read two books by Chomsky.

So, how do Syntax and Information Structure work together to make Chomsky a middle-field contrastive topic?

I try to find an answer to that and many other questions in the Minimalist Program of the Generative Linguistics.

renato.lacerda(at)uconn.edu