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The Position of Sentential Clitics in the Czech Clause

Tania Avgustinova; Karel Oliva
CLAUS-Report, Universität des Saarlandes, Vol. 68, 12/1995.


Our main goal is to propose a unified analysis of the "second position" and Wackernagel phenomena, which would adequately accommodate also certain non-trivial data that seem to be problematic for the currently available approaches: 1. Correct sentences with multiple syntactic constituents preceding the sentential clitics in Czech, and respectively, multiple syntactic constituency in the German "Vorfeld": a. Czech clitics (respectively, the tensed verb in German main clauses) preceded by two or more adverbials describing together a spatial or temporal interval; b. Czech clitics (respectively, the tensed verb in German main clauses) preceded by two or more adverbials of the same type, which can be viewed as a repetition of the respective modification; c. Czech clitics (respectively, the tensed verb in German main clauses) preceded by a combination of a temporal and a local adverbial; d. Czech clitics (respectively, the tensed verb in German main clauses) preceded by more than one contrasted syntactic constituents 2. Sentences with a single constituent preceding the sentential clitics (respectively, single constituent in the "Vorfeld") but judged to be highly unacceptable . We reconsider the Prague School treatment of the communicative structure of the sentence, and assume that, for each particular utterance, it can be determined which of the contained elements are informationally essential (significant) - i.e. informationally indispensable from a communicative perspective - and which of them are informationally unessential (insignificant) - i.e. without actual communicative contribution - and occur in the utterance for other, e.g., structural, pleonastic etc., reasons only. On such a basis we (re)introduce the notion of communicative importance. We further assume that not all elements of an utterance can be assigned a degree of communicative dynamism - i.e. that there are items for which the feature communicative importance is inappropriate. Another assumption is that in an utterance there might exist two or more syntactically distinguishable constituents which are of equal communicative importance. After these modifications, we introduce a structuring of an utterance into communicative units which we tentatively call communicative segments. A substantial communicative segment is defined as a contiguous sequence of adjacent syntactic units (i.e. words or phrases) of equal communicative importance, while an auxiliary communicative segment is a contiguous sequence of informationally insignificant items for which communicative importance is inappropriate as a feature. From such a perspective the Wackernagel's clitic cluster in Czech is regarded as an instance of an auxiliary communicative segment. We further define the "second" / Wackernagel position as the position delimiting the first (leftmost) substantial communicative segment in an utterance, and thus propose an alternative treatment also of the German "Vorfeld". Inasmuch as there are language-specific constraints on what can form a substantial communicative segment, our analysis allows for a natural explanation also of, e.g., the "constituent-second" / "word-second" position of Serbo-Croatian clitics.