[Ads-l] Scandinavian topicalization is very flexible

Chris Waigl chris at LASCRIBE.NET
Sun Dec 15 23:36:38 EST 2019

Seems to me a target for comparison should be French, where there's a
much-commented-upon (and deplored, by language sticklers) movement towards
pulling out and fronting all kinds of elements, even several of them. This
is a little different though in that there's a placeholder left in the
leftover skeleton usually in the form of a pronoun of some sort.

I thought about the "He wonders if Kari is making cakes" and the "He is
nervous whether they leave the backdoor unlocked" in German and French.
First of all, the two sentences as written (without any unusual
topicalization) aren't particularly idiomatic in English ("he is wondering
if", or if it's supposed to be habitual there's usually an adverb
highlighting it; also ?"he is nervous whether"). The same happens when you
try to translate too closely. The verb wonder, eg., is most idiomatically
translated both into German and French using a reflexive verb (sich fragen
/ se demander). And really, "Er stellt sich die Frage, ob Kari Kuchen
bäckt", while correct, sounds stilted like a sentence from a foreign
language manual! Let's at least replace Kuchen with Kekse (cookies), to
have a noun that unambiguously marks the plural, and put the unlocked
backdoor into the past tense...

In German, we'd get:

Er fragt sich, ob Kari Kekse bäckt. --> Kekse fragt er sich, ob Kari bäckt.
Er ist sich nicht sicher, ob sie die Hintertür offen gelassen haben. -->
Die Hintertür ist er sich nicht sicher, ob sie [sie??] aufgelassen haben.

For me, these work for informal German, with an intonational change that
highlights that first noun phrase. Also, note that this requires
rearranging the rest of the sentence to get a finite verb (element) into
position 2 in the sentence, as required in German declarative sentences.
For the second, maybe because I thought of the French before trying to
type, I right now have a tendency to put in a second sie (vestigial pronoun
referring to die Hintertür, whereas the first sie is the unspecified "they"
subject). But I ultimately took it out.

In French:

Il se demande si Kari fait des gateaux. --> Des gateaux, il se demande si
Kari *en* fait.
Il n'est pas sûr s'ils ont laissé ouverte la porte arrière. --> La porte
arrière, il n'est pas sûr s'ils *l'*ont laissé ouverte.

(I hope I spelled this right and got the agreements right :) )
These are even more acceptable than in German, completely unremarkable in
fact. But there are pronouns left behind (in boldface).

OK, not sure if this helps anyone, but you know where your N key is, as we
used to say.


On Sat, Dec 14, 2019 at 6:08 PM Mark Mandel <markamandel at gmail.com> wrote:

> No, the modern Scandinavian verbs have even less conjugation than English,
> and the nouns and adjectives have only barely more inflection. (Wikipedia,
> Danish/Norwegian/Swedish grammar) And I don't think this kind of
> construction would work in Latin, though I'm a bit too rusty to be sure and
> I don't want to take the time to work it out.
> On Fri, Dec 13, 2019, 4:01 PM Andy Bach <afbach at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Do the Scandinavians have conjugations akin to Latin, where the order is
> > more flexible due the noun/verb matches (or whatever it is in Latin -
> > declension or something?)?
> >
> > On Thu, Dec 12, 2019 at 8:51 PM Mark Mandel <markamandel at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > > *Scandinavians' little linguistic hat trick*
> > >
> > > 2019-12-12.1545 UTC±
> > >
> > > <https://phys.org/news/2019-12-scandinavians-linguistic-hat.html>
> > >
> > > *
> >
> > --
> >
> > a
> >
> > Andy Bach,
> > afbach at gmail.com
> > 608 658-1890 cell
> > 608 261-5738 wk
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Chris Waigl . chris.waigl at gmail.com . chris at lascribe.net
http://eggcorns.lascribe.net . http://chryss.eu

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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