The role of givenness, presupposition, and prosody in Czech word order: An experimental study

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Radek Šimík
Marta Wierzba


We present evidence from acceptability judgment experiments that there is systematic prosodic givenness marking in Czech in that discourse-salient elements avoid sentence stress, contra the claim in Kučerová (2007, 2012) that givenness is marked only syntactically---by establishing a word order in which all given elements precede all new ones---and not prosodically in Czech. We argue that the syntactic movement of given elements results from the need to avoid the rightmost position where sentence stress falls, and not from a syntactic ordering requirement. This is supported by the empirical finding that given objects need not scramble if they are not in sentence-final position, even if they are preceded by new elements (experiment 2). We also argue against Kučerová's claim that given elements are marked only if definite/presupposed in Czech by showing that irrespective of this property, all given objects tend to avoid the sentence-final position (experiment 1). Finally, our results reveal an interaction between presupposition and word order, in the sense of an acceptability penalty for utterances in which non-presupposed expressions precede presupposed ones (experiment 1 and 2). We propose to model the results by a set of weighted constraints that apply post-derivationally.

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