Analyzing word order styling: Postverbal subjects and placement of syntactic objects

A new advance on the development of the study of communicative syles has been presented by María José Serrano at Seven International Workshop on Spanish Sociolinguistics (WSS7) hosted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison (April 3-5). The paper is about the variation in the placement of the syntactic object in postverbal subject clauses, a contribution to a research project of syntactic variation devoted to the relationship between pronominal subjects and syntactic objects.

To better understand the postverbal placement of the pronominal subject in Spanish it is necessary to observe the position of the verbal object in the clause. Cognitive salience and textual informativeness are tools revealed as very important in determinating the meaning created by syntactic variants in discourse. According to that it will be analyzed three possible constructions of postverbal subject and syntactic object (VSO, VOS and OVS) in some oral texts from the Corpus Conversacional del Español de Canarias which comprises both mass media genres and spontaneous conversations. The variants are as represented in the following excerpts:

(1) De los cinco millones de euros que se dedican a centros de acogida de la mujer\ ha dicho usted que no es necesaria tal partida\(CCEC Med12 )
‘Those five millions euros set aside for a sheltered woman’s center, [you postv.] have said that it is not necessary such budget item’

(2) Seguimos sintonizando lo que quieran ustedes en esta época de Navidad\ (CCEC Med12)
‘We are keeping on tuning whatever [you postv.] want in this Christmas time’

(3) Eso es lo que estabas cantando tú por la mañana\ (CCEC Conv)
‘That is what [you postv.] were singing this morning’

Based on the gradualness of salience and informativeness of the subject and the object, each variant engenders a different meaning across the textual genres. An omitted subject is considered to be salient, accesible or activated in the context and it presents known information normally placed at the beginning of the clause. Salience is a cognitive conceptualization based on the perceptual relevance an entitiy achieves in discourse by means of language and it is grounded on the cognitive process of attention, understood as the activation of structures in the mind accross communicative acts (Langacker 2009:112). A great number of studies have confirmed the relation between known information, accesibility and salience. Being gradual dimensions, they may account for creating a variable orientation to either the subjectivity or objectivity poles.

Results indicate that the most frequent variable orders are VSO and OVS being respectively used in mass media texts and spontaneous conversations, whereas VOS is rather unfrequent. The former conveys an epistemic meaning helping to shape an objective style more suitable to be performed in mass media texts. Contrarily, the OVS variant showed up a deontic meaning which tends to create a more subjective style typically -but not exclusively- associated to spontaneous conversations.

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