Constituent order

Bob Eaton pete_dembrowski at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 7 14:50:20 UTC 2008


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नमस्‍ते दोसों, 

 

I have a question about the implications of various constituent orders in Hindi. 

 

The following example (from T. Mohanan 1994) is considered to be the normal “unmarked” (or “canonical”) order for constituents in Hindi (where S=Subject/कर्ता, O=Object/कर्म, IO=Indirect Object, and V=Verb/क्रिया):

 

      1.               
     इला ने अनु को हार भेजा।
     
      ilaa
     ne
     anu
     ko
     haaɾ
     bhej-0-aa
     
      Ila
     erg
     Anu
     DAT
     necklace
     send-perf-ms
     
      {  S  }
     {  IO }
     {   O  }
     {    V    }
     
      Ila sent Anu a/the necklace
     

 

Notice how the object can have either a definite or indefinite interpretation (i.e. “a necklace” or “the necklace”).  She suggests that if you move the object from this “canonical” position, it loses the indefinite interpretation:

 

      2.             
     इला ने हार अनु को भेजा।
     
      ilaa
     ne
     haaɾ
     anu
     ko
     bhej-0-aa
     
      Ila
     erg
     necklace
     Anu
     DAT
     send-perf-ms
     
      {  S  }
     {   O  }
     {  IO  }
     {    V    }
     
      Ila sent Anu the/*a necklace
     
      3.             
     हार इला ने अनु को भेजा।
     
      haaɾ
     ilaa
     ne
     anu
     ko
     bhej-0-aa
     
      necklace
     Ila
     erg
     Anu
     DAT
     send-perf-ms
     
      {   O  }
     {  S  }
     {  IO  }
     {    V    }
     
      Ila sent Anu the/*a necklace
     
             

 

Notice in these two examples that the interpretation of necklace must be definite (i.e. “the neckless”).

 

She then goes on to say that this “shift from canonical position” will do the same thing to the subject. For which she gives the following two examples:

 

      4.              
     सुनार ने अनु को हार भेजा।
     
      sunaaɾ
     ne
     anu
     ko
     haaɾ
     bhej-0-aa
     
      goldsmith
     erg
     Anu
     DAT
     necklace
     send-perf-ms
     
      {     S     }
     {  IO  }
     {   O  }
     {    V    }
     
      The/?a goldsmith sent Anu a/the necklace
     
      5.              
     अनु को हार सुनार ने भेजा।
     
     
      anu
     ko
     haaɾ
     sunaaɾ
     ne
     bhej-0-aa
     
     
      Anu
     DAT
     necklace
     goldsmith
     erg
     send-perf-ms
     
     
      {  IO  }
     {   O  }
     {     S    }
     {    V    }
     
     
      The/*a goldsmith sent Anu the/*a necklace
     
     
                 

 

My question is, I think it’s the choice of subject noun that is causing this effect and I think if it were a different noun which more readily lent itself to indefiniteness, this final example could have an indefinite subject interpretation. Maybe since goldsmiths aren’t that common, they don’t easily lend themselves to being indefinite (notice in (5) that she’s not even sure the indefinite interpretation is possible when it’s in the sentence-initial position; by having put the “?” in front of the indefinite “a” interpretation).

 

So, my question is, if she had used “child” (son or daughter) instead of “goldsmith” would the indefinite interpretation still be possible:

 

      6.                 
     अनु को हार बेटे ने भेजा।
     
      anu
     ko
     haaɾ
     beTe
     ne
     bhej-0-aa
     
      Anu
     DAT
     necklace
     son
     erg
     send-perf-ms
     
      {  IO  }
     {   P  }
     {  A   }
     {    V    }
     
      The/a son sent Anu the/*a necklace
     

 

That is, is it possible that if Anu had multiple sons, and the speaker and hearer weren’t already talking about any of them, could this sentence mean that one of her sons sent it to her?

 

You could Imagine this conversation between two friends of Anu who are looking at her from across a room, who both know her very well and know that she has 3 sons (AND discussed without a hint of ईर्ष्या :-)

सहेली 1: Wow, look at the necklace and earrings that Anu has on! They’re beautiful!

सहेली 2: Yes they are. उसको हार बेटे ने भेजा।

 

Can this just mean “one of her sons sent it”?

 

I do agree that if you put हार farther to the left in the sentence (as in 2 and 3), that it does not allow an indefinite interpretation, but I feel like moving something to the position just before the verb does not preclude the indefinite interpretation.



Or even if indefiniteness is not possible, it seems to me that सहेली 2's reply would have to be as given above, because both "her" and "necklace" are known discourse entities, whereas the son has yet to be talked about. It seems to me that the Principle of Natural Information Flow (known information first, followed by unknown information ) would prefer the order with the subject last...



Thanks for any feedback you have,

Bob

 
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