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 :

subject+verb+object+adverbial

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

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