The University of Sussex

Syntactic constraints on discourse structure: the case of It-clefts

Judy Delin, Jon Oberlander

We present a view of clefts as constructions conveying a bundle of five pragmatic features. While some of these features are discussed in the existing literature, two new ones have emerged from our research, as follows: (i) it-clefts serve to ensure that the eventuality reported in the sentence is conveyed as a STATE; and (ii) it-clefs restrict the range of discourse relations that can be inferred to hold between the incoming content and the existing discourse structure, we observe the markedly different discourse functions of each type: while all clefts convey the five basic features, the features are of differing importance in the functioning of the two types. Crucially, however, all clefts convey that the the intended discourse relation does not involve a default interpretation of narrative progression we explain this constraint in terms of the STATIVISING function of the cleft mentioned above. The precise type of non-narrative discourse relation intended is determined by the topic-comment structure of the particular cleft token and the current state of the discourse context.

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