7.3. Initial detachments and management of the referents

7.3.2. Discussion of examples

The example (56) comes from an interview where a poet is interviewed by a student, but they know each other already before this conversation. The question concerns three last lines in a poem and the author’s message behind these verses. In his answer, the poet first gives an affirmative response and explains his motivations.

The answer is expanded on several turns, but the exact referent is not mentioned again – the interviewee makes a further reference to it with the pronoun see (‘aga siis oli see küll jah’, ‘but then was it yes’).

(56 )

mh aa seda ma tahtsingi küsida et mm need viimased DEM.PART I want.PST.1sg+clitic ask.INF that DEM.pl last kolm rida (.) kas see on: (.) tõsine deklaratsioon sul

three lines Q DEM be.3sg serious declaration you.ADE

‘Mh aa what I wanted to ask was that mm these three last lines, is it a serious declaration from you?’



This example begins by an introductory utterance before the detached element;

it can be interpreted as an attenuating means or a smoother transition, due to the fact that the detached element that follows has not been mentioned as such in previous discourse (the hesitation marker mm between the introduction and the detached element also probably contributes to the transition which marks a change of subtopic in the discourse). However, from the point of view of the informational status, it can be considered as an element extracted from a set or a framework and corresponds to the common knowledge of the participants.

From the formal point of view, the whole utterance can be divided into three parts: first, the introduction, surrounded by the dialogue markers mh aa and mm, secondly, the detached element itself (‘these last three lines’) and thirdly, the main clause which begins by the interrogative particle kas. A micropause separates the nominal element and the main clause which begins with the question word kas.

The detached constituent need viimased kolm rida and the resumptive pronoun see do not show grammatical agreement (plural determiner ‘these’ and singular pronoun ‘it’). These types of occurrences are relatively frequent in the corpus, and I decided to analyse them as detached constructions, bearing in mind that these elements, typically occurring in spontaneous oral language and causing no interpretation problems in the conversation, display features characteristic to discourse under construction and therefore naturally present incoherencies as to agreement and grammatical constructions. This type of inconsistency appears when the resumptive element links the detached element to another lexical element which is not exactly at the same level of generalization. Here, the detached element refers to a specific material item (three lines of a poem), understood as the content of these verses, whereas the main clause already makes reference to this interpretation, not to the plural element in the detached clause. In consequence, there is no coreference in a narrow sense in the main clause and the detached element.

In this example we can assume that the detachment construction is triggered by the combination of several factors: first, the speaker introduces the lexical element (need viimased kolm rida), which is a relatively heavy constituent; the question word kas comes only after this constituent, after a short pause, and therefore a pronoun is required in the copular construction which constitutes the main clause. Here the detachment construction allows also a rather long and heavy constituent to be presented first, placing it in the foreground.

In the next example (57) the introduction is formally a yes/no question, but it is completed by a content question to which an answer is expected. This sequence comes from an information query by phone.

At the end of the introduction (aga kas te oskate öelda et näiteks ‘could you tell me for example’), the nominal element (the bus leaving at 5.20 pm) is preceded by a typical pre-thematic element näiteks, ‘for example’. This utterance displays one central characteristic of spontaneous oral speech – delivering information by portions, separated by discourse particles and/or other


editing devices. This conversation takes place by phone, so that more elements for keeping contact and staging information can be assumed to be necessary.


H: .hh et kas kella ‘viie aeg kuskil ‘läheb Tartust ‘Elvasse ‘buss.

that Q clock.GEN five.GEN time around go.3sg Tartu.ELA Elva.ILL bus (10.7)

V: ‘kuusteist ‘viiskümend ‘iga=päev, ‘seitseteist ‘kakskümend (.) ‘tööpäeviti.

sixteen fifty every day seventeen twenty on_working_days H: seitseteist ‘kakskümend tööpäeviti jah?

seventeen twenty on_working_days yes

V: jaa, ja siis on ‘seitseteist ‘kakskümend=viis ‘iga=päev.

yes and then is seventeen twenty-five every day

H: mhmh .hhhhhh aga kas te oskate öelda et näiteks see ee but Q you can.2pl say.INF that example.TRL DEM seitseteist kakskümmend see buss (0.3) .hhh

seventeen twenty DEM bus

et=ee mis ‘kell ta on siin üleval selles Aardla peatuses.

that what o’clock he be.3sg here up DEM.INE Aardla stop.INE.

H: ‘Is there a bus going from Tartu to Elva around five o’clock?

V: Sixteen-fifty every day, seventeen-twenty on working days.

H: Seventeen-twenty on working days, yes?

V: Yes, and then it is seventeen twenty-five every day.

H: But can you say that for example this seventeen-twenty this bus, when is it here up in Aardla bus stop?’


The detached construction is built up as in an analytical construction which allows the referent to be identified (determiner see + hesitation marker ee +

‘seventeen-twenty this bus’). The transition of the detached element (Theme) and the main clause (Rheme) is clearly marked (pause, hesitation, repetition of complementizer et which can be linked to the introductory clause kas te oskate öelda et näiteks).

Another interesting point is that the pronouns are used in order to refer to the nominal elements: this question will be examined further as there will be more examples that allow some conclusions to be drawn about their use. Here we can see the pronoun ta, which mostly refers to animates, resuming the inanimate referent (a bus).

In previous turns three possible options are proposed: one bus at 4.50 pm (overlooked by the speaker H), 5.20 and another at 5.25 pm; the latter is the one that is mentioned immediately before the utterance containing the detached


element; that means that the speaker H chooses between two referents, processes the received information and the detached construction refers to the more distant constituent. The lengthy introduction before the detached element is probably also due to the relative distance of the previous mention, even if the real distance is not very important (2 turns), but the two elements are also very similar in formulation, which is why there is a need for a clear distinction between them.

This example shows a case where the detached construction is used in order to point to one referent among several (formally quite similar) items, and more specifically, to go back to a referent mentioned before the very last, competing item.

In the following three examples (58-60), which will be discussed together due to their relative formal and contextual similarity, we can see a series of questions from an institutional dialogue (asking information about a spa and the additional services). The speaker uses a similar pattern in all three cases: the theme introduced by aga, followed in one example by the interrogative particle and in the two other examples also showing a typical combination of aga näiteks (‘but for example’) before the nominal constituent – in these cases the question word kas comes at the beginning of the main clause.

There is no perceptible pause in the examples (58) and (60), whereas in example (59) there is a short pause between the ID and the main clause.

In the example (60) the resumptive word is the proadverb sinna, ‘there’ in the illative sense, governed by the verb kinni panema (‘make an appointment’).

In the last example we again find the complementizer et which is used in a combination with the interrogative particle et kas which occurs quite often in spoken language questions.


H: =mhmh mhmh jah ega ‘kõik vist ei ‘sobi [ned]

yes NEG all probably NEG suit.NEG.3pl DEM.pl



V: [jah]


V: =ei sobi jah=

NEG suit.NEG.3pl yes

H: aga kas need protseduurid need on nagu sis õhtul but Q DEM.pl treatments DEM.pl be.3sg like PRTCL evening.ADE või: kui saabumisel või=s ommikul või kuna=ne- need siis or when arrival.ADE or morning.ADE or when DEM.pl PRTCL

119 nagu on

like be.3pl

‘But these treatments, they are like in the evening or when we arrive or in the morning or when are they then?’

(OCTU) (59)

aga näiteks need mullivannid (0.8) kas need on nagu ka but example.TRL DEM.pl jacuzzis Q DEM.pl be.3sg like also sis ujulas siis ka nagu eraldi tasu eest (.) PRTCL swimming_ pool.INE PRTCL also like separate fee.GEN for näideks õhtul

example.TRL evening.ADE

‘But for instance these jacuzzis, are they also like in the swimming pool like for a special fee, for example in the evening?’

(OCTU) (60)

aga näiteks see bõuling et kas sinna tuleb siis ka nagu but example.TRL DEM bowling PRTCL Q there.ILL must PRTCL also like aeg kinni panna (.) ennem, (.) näiteks kui seal õhtul mingi time book.INF before example.TRL when there evening.ADE PRTCL mängida tahad

play.INF want.2sg

‘But for instance this bowling, is it necessary to book a time slot there before, for example when you want to play it in the evening?’


With regards to the status of the referents at the moment they are mentioned in the detached construction, two cases are present here: the referent in the detached element in examples (59) and (60), mullivannid ‘jacuzzis’, bõuling

‘bowling’ have not been mentioned before, but are inferable by association (different services proposed in a spa hotel); the referent in example (58) need protseduurid has been mentioned by the same speaker H two turns back, with no other competing referent in between (nevertheless, the speaker introduces it again with a full NP (need protseduurid). Moreover, this is not the first time this referent is mentioned: it has also been discussed in previous turns where the agent explains how the visitors can make an appointment with a doctor who will decide which treatments they should have. After this sequence another question


will be asked about these treatments: in this utterance the Theme (need protseduurid) is in the subject position with no detachment.

These examples show that the use of the pre-thematic markers aga and aga näiteks is related to the status of the referents: aga näiteks introduces here inferable but unmentioned referents (as if one could make a selection among a certain set of possible referents), whereas aga reintroduces a referent which is present in the discussion. It is worth noting that the referent need protseduurid is in all cases (in detached constructions and simple utterances) introduced by a full NP; this aspect could be explained by the fact that it is an inanimate abstract entity which is less easy to track throughout the conversation – between the mentions of this referent, several turns are inserted containing other details about appointment times etc.

With regards to the persistence of the referents in subsequent turns, it can be noted that in example (60) the referent is once more mentioned by a full NP. In these examples generally, the full NPs are the preferred means of introducing the referents, independently of their presence in the discourse – this could be attributed to the specific nature of the conversation where the speaker seems to have a list of items he wants to ask questions about and the reference tracking by the use of pronouns can turn out to be more costly in terms of the processing of the information.

Example (59) comes shortly after in another thematic development – the question is about the saunas and the swimming pool not being free of charge in the evening. Here, the answer is simple and this element will not be mentioned later.

The referent in example (60), bowling, will not be discussed any further.

After the answer to this question the speaker H asks another specifying question about payment options and this closes the discussion about this item.

In this conversation, the speaker seems to have a recurrent pattern of introducing different referents by initial detachment constructions which allows her to bounce from one element to another.

In example (61) we can see another type of formulation of an interrogative:

the word order is one of declarative utterance, with the interrogative particle jah at the end, whose function is asking for confirmation and already offering an answer (Hennoste 2012: 684–686). The speaker makes a self-repair at the end of the utterance, replacing the verb on ‘to be’ by a more precise verb algab ‘to begin’.


H: [mhmh] (.) aga noh see Meribel see on ainult veebruarist but PRTCL DEM Meribel DEM be.3sg only February.ELA sis algab jah

PRTCL begin.3sg yes


V: Meribel akkab jah vabariigi aastapäevast Meribel begin.3sg yes republic.GEN anniversary.ELA H: ‘But this Meribel, it only starts from February, yes?

V: Meribel begins, yes, from Independence Day’


The turn begins with an acknowledgment marker mhmh, followed by a micropause. The new Theme is introduced by the connector aga combined with the particle noh which is multifunctional (postponement, staging of the information etc). This example can be considered as a pivot construction: after the detached element, the main clause begins by see on ainult veebruarist sis, but a more specific verb algab ‘begins’ is added to the utterance, followed by the question marker jah. The answer echoes the form of the question by using formally the same marker jah for confirmation and contains a more precise element for dating (Independence Day in February). In this example, the detached constituent allows the introduction of an unmentioned entity; in general, there are relatively frequent cases where the detached item is a proper noun or a complex constituent, as these elements are more easy to present in nominative form, taking into account the fact that names are processed somewhat differently to the remaining information, especially when a name has not been mentioned before, its identification could be more difficult than any other lexical word that is semantically more linked to the text.

This nominal constituent (the hotel, referred to as see Meribel) refers to a new referent in the conversation, but it can be assumed as being present in the general frame of the exchange.

In the next example (62) the speaker reformulates her initial question which begins with the verbal phrase and ends up by presenting a sort of final detachment22 or pivot construction.23 The question of the speaker H is presented in two turns, the second one takes the first utterance as a support, with approximately the same semantic content, but specifies it in a shorter utterance introduced by a detached item. The speaker probably realises that the referent she uses in the first utterance is not quite appropriate (in previous turns both types, travel insurance in general and the health insurance were mentioned, but the salesperson was first explaining the conditions of the travel insurance; in consequence, the speaker H probably wants to make the referent more general and uses a construction beginning with a detachment (kindlustus) which repairs

22 The first main clause, the utterance by H can be considered as Rheme, followed by a lexical support (see tervisekindlustus ‘this health insurance’), but the proadverb seal is not exactly coreferential and the use of the complementizer et is not typical at the intersection of those constituents, so that this structure seems to announce that there is rather more to come, marked by the repetition of the complementizer et.

23 Pivot constructions will be briefly discussed in section 8.8.2.


and replaces the first one. The connector et which seems to link together the different constituents in this sequence is used before and after the lexical element and repeated once more before the main clause. The question word mida combined with et seems to establish a link with the preceding discourse (the referent being mentioned immediately in the previous turn); this also probably explains the fact that exceptionally the nominal element has no determiner.


H: mhmh aga mis seal täpselt siis kaetakse= [et see tervise]

but what there exactly PRTCL cover.IMPS [PRTCL DEM health]

kindlustus=et insurance PRTCL

V: [mt=hhhhh]

V: nii so

H: ‘kindlustus et mida see ‘õlmab insurance PRTCL what DEM contain.3sg

H: ‘Uhuh, but what exactly will be covered then, this health insurance?

V: [….]

V: yes

All elements, beginning with the first introduction of the nominal constituent, are preceded by the complementizer et, but its functions are not the same depending on its position (before a referent, before a Rheme). In the last utterance (kindlustus, ‘insurance’), the repetition of et could be an echoing effect marking the continuation after the repair and at the same time it contributes to the segmentation inside the sequence delimitating the Theme and the Rheme. The reformulation of the question can also be triggered by the fact that the feedback from V (nii, followed by an unclear syllable so) has not quite confirmed her understanding of the first question.

With regards to the complementizer et, L. Keevallik (2008) has shown that in conversations its use encompasses so-called ‘multiple voices’ by establishing a link between the actual utterance at the beginning of which it is used and the previous turn(s). The same mechanism seems to also operate in many of my examples where et is used. Of course, the link between the preceding discourse may not be as explicit as that: quite often, there is no such information given by the previous speaker, but the utterance in question seems to refer to background knowledge or shared knowledge (it occurs in questions about different travel services and it is assumed that the person who will answer is competent to do so).

Example (63), like example (60) contains the connector et kas, which has some specific characteristics compared to the simple connector kas in interrogative utterances: it allows the segmentation of the sequence and marks


the transition between different informational constituents. In example (63) particles are added at the end of the utterance which modify the state of knowledge of the speaker: kas at the beginning of the utterance is marking total absence of knowledge, but this state is being attenuated by particles like või at the end of the utterance; for the scalar repartition of different markers, cf.

Hennoste 2012: 684.

This example contains an alternative question in the main clause and also some contradictory elements which are relatively frequent in oral language where the utterance is being modified by the speaker.

Here again, the referent is introduced in contrast with the previous one (Canary islands vs Egypt as travel destination); the referent Kanaari saared has been mentioned once in a list at the beginning of the conversation, and after a discussion about several other referents, the speaker brings in this one in order to discuss other alternatives. This referent persists during several turns, as the speaker V explains the advantages of this travel destination.


tundub aga näiteks net=ee Kanaari saared et kas seal on seem.3sg however example.TRL DEM.pl Canary Islands PRTCL Q there be.3sg nagu enamvähem sama (.) või kas seal on nagu rohkem midagi vaadata like more_or_less same (.) or Q there be.3sg like more something look.INF või et noh.


‘It seems however that for example these Canary Islands, is there like more or

‘It seems however that for example these Canary Islands, is there like more or

Im Dokument MARRI AMON Initial and final detachments in spoken Estonian: a study in the framework of Information Structuring (Seite 115-139)