Transitivity in discourse : A comparison of Greek, Polish and Swedish
Abstract: This work assumes that various linguistic forms in different languages are related to common cognitive functions and semantic properties. A cognitive function - presumably universal - is information transmission. The notion of interest is transitivity, which contains a set of semantic properties such as agentivity, dynamism, affectedness, boundedness and givenness, and the explicit forms are verb aspect and object definiteness. As aspect and definiteness are seen as manifestations of function, their domains are not only verbs and objects but the discourse at large. This is tested in (modern) Greek, Polish and Swedish. Current research is presented on transitivity and on verbal and nominal properties, seen against the background of information structure, especially grounding. The connection between semantic properties and language-specific forms is tested in an empirical study of the three languages. Over 6,000 transitive clauses from narrative fiction were analysed. First, the correlation between aspect and definiteness marking was tested, both in general and together with other grammatical categories. This was done intralinguistically for the three languages, for Polish and Swedish also via translations. Second, the semantic properties for each clause were coded and compared with the morphological marking of aspect in Greek and Polish and definiteness in Greek and Swedish. This gives a rich body of quantitative evidence for the assumed connection between form and function. The data display prototypical clusters of transitivity properties characteristic either of foregrounding or back-grounding, sometimes contrary to claims in the literature. Cases of ?mixed1 combinations, e.g. with verb aspect from one prototype and object definiteness from the other, are explained against the background of discourse or information structure. Clauses with conflicting properties are few, but when they appear, some properties are systematically more decisive than others in determining transitivity. Finally, the three languages are analysed on a functional-typological basis. Greek and Polish are compared according to aspect marking and Greek and Swedish according to definiteness marking. The results indicate that the idea of universal cognitive functions behind linguistic forms is a plausible assumption.
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