Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Principle of End-Focus in English Sentences

What is the Principle of End-Focus in English sentences? This elusive principle is the despair of most ESL learners of English . Simply put, it denotes the tendency of the English language to reserve to the end of the sentence the most important piece of information . It may sound a bit paradoxical to most ESL learners of English They may wonder how any sentence element can get prominence by being "relegated" to the end ! Last is the least in their way of perceiving things .

An English sentence conveys a message . A message may comprise an expected or assumed piece of information together with a piece of new information .  Surely, the new information should be given some degree of prominence . The best way to ensure this is by putting it to the end of the sentence where the tone-group  also ends . The last lexical word in the sentence which co-extends  with the tone-group of the sentence receives the tonic accent .The tonic accent  thus highlights the last lexical word . The new information , by being placed at the end of the sentence ,,  will receive more prominence than  it would in any other position in the sentence .

Now take a look at the syntax of a typical English sentence :


As the sentence co-extends withe the tone-group , adverb receives tonic accent . It follows from this that adverb receives prominence in a typical English sentence . as it receives end -focus by virtue of its final position .

However, the English language has resources which permit it to highlight any  sentence element by shifting it to the end where it can receive end- focus . Take thisexample

There is a temple on top of the hill

The lexical element hill receive focus by virtue of its final  position which coincides with the end of the tone-group . If you wish to highlight temple  you need only to turn around the elements in such a way that temple comes at the end of the sentence .

What is on top of the hill?

On top of the hill , there is a temple

In its new position temple gets end-focus , doesn't it?

In my next posts I will explain passivization and dative -shift in the light of the Principle of End-Focu.

Thank you for visiting !

Prof V.P.Rajappan

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Omission of Auxiliary do in Wh-Questions

The omission  of the auxiliary verb do in wh- questions  will  often confuse English language learners . The general structure of a wh- question involving do is 

Wh -word + Auxiliary do  + subject + main verb++adverbial

When the wh-word  is the object of the verb , do is obligatory .It has been obligatory  in Modern English since the 18 th century 

Look at the following sentence:

You saw somebody.

Somebody is the object of the verb saw.  If we ask a question based on somebody , it would be

Whom did you see?

Whom is the object of the verb see and , therefore, did  is used as an auxiliary .

Look at another example :

You wrote something

Something is the object of the verb wrote . If we ask a question based on something , it would be 

What did you write ?

Please remember that the question-words whom , what  which and who are interrogative pronouns When they  are the subject of the verb,  the auxiliary do is not used in questions .  Look at this sentence :

Somebody called you on the phone ..

Somebody is the subject of the sentence , isn't it ?

If we ask a question based on somebody  it would be 

Who called you on the phone? 

Who is the subject of the verb called and , therefore, do is omitted in the question.  

What frightened you ? 

Here, do is omitted because what is the subject of the verb frightened . Something frightened you and the question is based on something which is the subject of the verb .

The English language omits do- support only  when the question  word is the subject of the verb
The question-word itself is the subject  , though. in an interrogative form . Subject-operator inversion is an invariable syntactic feature of an English  interrogative sentence. But as there is no subject   in the body of the  question ,  there is no need to bring in the dummy auxiliary do .for subject-operator inversion .


Thank you for visiting 

Prof . V.P.Rajappan