Vom Status pendens zum Satzsubjekt: Studien zur Topikalisierung in neueren semitischen Sprachen.

Author:Cohen, Eran
Position:Book review

Vom Status pendens zum Satzsubjekt: Studien zur Topikalisierung in neueren semitischen Sprachen. By WERNER DIEM. WIESBADEN: HARRASSOWITZ, 2013. Pp. vii + 120. 54 [euro].


    There are not many comparative studies of topicalization and related phenomena in the Semitic languages. As such, this book is a welcome contribution to our field. Werner Diem writes about status pendens (henceforth StP) in three modern Semitic language groups--Arabic, Aramaic, and EthioSemitic. This modest book consists of a very short introduction (pp. 1-3) and three chapters, each of which focuses on one language.

    The languages were chosen for different reasons: Cairene Arabic, because it is the best described of the Neo-Arabic varieties; Turoyo, because it is most abundantly documented; and Amharic because it is the modern Semitic language in which the StP constructions expanded the farthest. All these languages have been spoken continuously.

    The StP is a construction type in which an entity, typically a noun phrase, is extracted from a sentence by left dislocation. This is usually interpreted as the result of a syntactic movement from the entity's original position in a clause to a position before the clause; this position is thought by some to be clause-external. The dislocated entity is linked to the clause by a clause-internal resumptive pronoun. Its derivation is termed in the monograph "StP transformation" (symbolized [sup.StP.[??]]), whose function is topicalizing that noun and creating a marked topic-comment structure. Throughout, the author distinguishes formal and semantic aspects of StP. Only topical constructions that have to do with sentence structure are discussed, however, and not those that are discourse-related.

    The construction may, over time, supersede the original construction and become the normal or "unmarked" construction. The StP construction may lose its marked information-structural properties, the dislocated element becoming the subject of the sentence (but keeping its topicality despite the fact that it is not marked as such vis-a-vis the original construction). Diem terms such erstwhile StP structures "resumptive sentences," whose common denominator is that there is in the predicate an element that resumes the subject. The end of the process is a situation in which the resumptive element becomes part of the verbal form, and can be analyzed as "agreement." Various phases of this development are treated in the book. Contrary to the term "StP," the term "subject" is not defined by the author.

    In the following sections, I will summarize the main points of this contribution.


    Diem discusses two groups of construction-types in Neo-Arabic--prepositional clauses and pseudoverbs. In the first group, he distinguishes between possessive and locative clauses for three reasons: (1) while locative clauses are always based on prepositions, possession can be expressed by other means; (2) syntactically speaking, in locative clauses the locatum is the subject and the prepositional phrase is the predicate (il'awlad mis cand-i "the children are not with me"); (3) locative clauses can be exchanged with...

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