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(Revised) Research Seminar : " Optimal Communication: the Case of Object Fronting in Dutch"
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Topic:  (Revised) Research Seminar : " Optimal Communication: the Case of Object Fronting in Dutch"
posted itemPosted - 06/03/2008 :  11:19:31
City University of Hong Kong Dep

Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Research Seminar

Optimal Communication: the Case of Object Fronting in Dutch

Presented by

Prof. Helen de Hoop

Professor of Theoretical Linguistics, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Date: 16 Apr 2008, Wednesday (Revised)
Time: 5:30pm - 7:00pm
G7619 (Lift 3, 7/F, Green Zone), Academic Building, CityU of HK (Revised)


Communication in general requires a process for (a) producing an optimal form given a certain meaning, and recovering that meaning given the optimal form, and (b) arriving at an optimal interpretation given a certain form, and reproducing that form given the optimal interpretation (Blutner et al. 2006). Hence, optimal communication involves more than the sum of two unidirectional processes of optimization. I will discuss this hypothesis for the case of object fronting in Dutch. Object fronting is rare but grammatical in Dutch. Usually, object fronting is considered to be a type of topicalisation. Therefore, we expect object fronting to occur when the object is the topic of the sentence, and since animate noun phrases are better topics than inanimate noun phrases, we can expect object fronting to happen more often when the object is animate. This would explain the speaker's tendency to start a sentence with an animate noun phrase, irrespective of its grammatical function. But from the hearer’s perspective a fronted object is in fact more easily recognizable as an object when it is inanimate. I will argue that indeed both the speaker’s and the hearer’s perspectives constrain object fronting, and that not only does the speaker take into account the hearer’s perspective, but also the other way around.


Helen de Hoop is Professor of Theoretical Linguistics at the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. She published her 1992 PhD dissertation Case configuration and noun phrase interpretation (University of Groningen) in the Garland series Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics in 1996. She has published (co-authored) articles in the journals Linguistics and Philosophy, Journal of Semantics, Language Acquisition, Linguistics, and Lingua. Together with Mengistu Amberber she edited the volume Competition and variation in natural languages: the case for case (Elsevier, Oxford, 2005). With Petra Hendriks and Reinhard Blutner, she wrote a book on Optimality Theory and interpretation (Optimal Communication, CSLI Publications, Stanford, 2006). In Nijmegen she is the principal investigator of several externally funded research projects, the topics of which vary from case and animacy to the behaviour of local pronouns in the languages of the world.

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