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Topicalisation and Left-Dislocation in European Portuguese

Topicalisation and Left-Dislocation in European Portuguese: at the prosody-pragmatics interface


  • Robert Farren

Summary, in English

Topicalisation (TOP) and clitic left-dislocation (CLLD) are syntactic strategies in which some constituent occurs sentence-initially rather than in canonical position further to the right. European Portuguese is exceptional among Romance languages, as both TOP and CLLD can be used to place verbal arguments in clause-initial position. The two forms are superficially similar, but most modern syntactic theories see them as fundamentally different structures.
In this thesis, two separate though related empirical studies investigate TOP and CLLD in European Portuguese on formal and functional grounds. First, a prosodic study focuses on acoustic analysis of recordings of a native speaker reading selected texts from a small corpus. A clear difference is shown between realisations of CLLD and realisations of TOP. In CLLD, initial constituents are realised as separate intonation phrases (IPs) and are marked with a nuclear contour followed by a pause or silent interval. The same nuclear contour is found in all but two cases: it is the L*+H H% ‘continuation’ tone, as it is called in the Portuguese ToBI framework of Frota et al. (2015). In TOP, no such intonational boundary separates initial constituents from the rest of the clause. This finding supports the view that left-dislocated constituents are base-generated at CP while TOP is a movement within the clause (an adjunct to TP). The results argues against the view (in Cinque 1977, Kayne 1994, Vallduví 1995, etc.) that Romance CLLD is a movement within the clause.
The functional study is inspired by Ellen Prince’s discourse-functional studies of English TOP and left-dislocation (Prince 1984, 1998). An innovation is a feature analysis testing TOP and CLLD sentences in European Portuguese for the features [±new], [±set], [±contrast], [±topic], [±focus] in the larger discourse context. The clearest finding is that TOP and CLLD share one function, that of “[marking] the entity represented by the NP as being either already evoked in the discourse or else in a salient set relation to something already evoked in or inferable from the discourse” (Prince 1984: 217). A second finding is that CLLD (only) has a lexico-semantic role associated with certain intransitive psych verbs, namely to give more salience to human experiencers occurring in indirect object position. Finally, the study finds that TOP is more likely to be contrastive and not to have topic-related functions at discourse level, while CLLD shows the opposite tendency: it is more likely to be topic-marking in its relation to the extrasential discourse, and non-contrastive.
The discourse-functional view taken in this study highlights a tendency for multiple topics to interact, alternate and co-exist within and across sentences, so that readings of topic strictly at sentence level may be divergent from and even incompatible with extra-sentential topic readings. It is necessary to distinguish two or possibly three levels of topic.


  • Master's Programme: Language and Linguistics

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (one year)


  • Languages and Literatures
  • Social Sciences


  • clitic left-dislocation
  • topicalization
  • topicalisation
  • CLLD
  • Portuguese
  • intonation
  • prosody
  • pragmatics
  • information structure
  • topic


  • Valéria Molnár
  • Gilbert Ambrazaitis