Post-Rheme (Anti-Topic, Mneme, Tail) as the third informational

Im Dokument MARRI AMON Initial and final detachments in spoken Estonian: a study in the framework of Information Structuring (Seite 74-78)


5.2. Post-Rheme (Anti-Topic, Mneme, Tail) as the third informational

As illustrated in previous chapters, Information Structuring has been studied from extremely various viewpoints and the consensus about which units or elements should be distinguished within it has not yet been reached. However, in the present study it is assumed firstly that different constituents can only be analysed in relation to the others (there can be no definition in absolute terms) and secondly, it can be derived from the first assumption that there can not be any predefined opposition between different constituents: they are determined on the basis of a textual approach within a given utterance/sequence. From a dual opposition that has already been described in the Ancient Greek period, later in the twentieth century other approaches have been developed that distinguish three main informational constituents. It should also be underlined that the third constituent, Post-Rheme or Mneme,16 although it has been described within different approaches (grammar, sentence/textual perspective), nevertheless has in common most of its characteristics in different frameworks, so that it is not just an ‘additional’ element for the purposes of analysis, created for all these elements that do not fit into the existing ones. At the level of Information Structuring it is necessary to adopt a more subtle approach, compared to syntactic accounts, for example, where Theme and Post-Rheme can both be designated as ‘topic-promotion devices’.

The existence of a third informational component has been pleaded by different researchers like K. Lambrecht, S. A. Dik, M. M. J. Fernandez-Vest, J. Perrot etc.

Depending on the background of the researcher, it has been given various designations and some of its characteristics have remained controversial across the studies.

Lambrecht 1994 has underlined the existence of a third component called in his theory ‘Anti-Topic’, but his approach is not discourse-based.

With the identification of the third element it has been possible to account for certain elements that occur at the end of the utterance, distinguished by a special intonational pattern and special semantic or cognitive characteristics.

These segments are usually performed at a lower pitch; for English and French it has been suggested that the intonation is flat and the semantical properties can be characterized as showing a ‘circular cohesion’ (Fernandez-Vest 1994, 2006: 182), i.e. the speaker often repeats the initial question or thematic element or modifies it slightly, but on the discourse level can this process encompass a larger excerpt, so that the element in question assures cohesion beyond the utterance where it occurs. More specifically, it refers to two successive predications where after the first predication the order of constituents is

16 Regarding the terminological choice cf. also the beginning of chapter 5 in the present thesis.


reversed and presented in the second one, thus allowing for changes in enunciative strategy (Fernandez-Vest 2006: 182). This phenomenon should be distinguished from iconic cohesion, which refers to the simple repetition of the constituents or a sequence.

It should be noted here that unlike the Theme and initial detachment, this third constituent coincides with the operation of detachment (produced in the form of final detachment).

Fernandez-Vest (2004a), based on different corpora of oral speech, argues that this constituent (in her terminology Mnémème or Mneme in English) also has some other properties, such as the possibility of having additional material between the main clause and the Mneme and the double occurrence of Mnemes in discourse.

Final detachment allows the identification after the Rheme, considering that the detached element is not separated by a pause or hesitation and occurs typically in highly interactional contexts. According to Fernandez-Vest, final detachment seems to be triggered by a cognitive automatism, whereas the occurrence of initial detachment is mainly driven by the underlying principle of discourse activity that the first element is the one that one will be talking about (Fernandez-Vest 2006: 190).

This author underlines the fact that final detachment does not stem only from the thematic part of the utterance and it is not only a “postponed Theme”: this argument is supported on the one hand by the occurrences where the Mneme serves as basis for upcoming Theme and on the other hand by the fact that a Mneme can also refer to elements presented in the Rheme (Fernandez-Vest 2006: 190–191).

Fernandez-Vest also includes other constituents in this category that occur in, for example, enumerations with plain intonation, having little informational charge and referring to the initial hypertheme (Fernandez-Vest 2006: 188); in that case the binary strategy Rheme-Mneme is present.

Dik, in his Theory of functional grammar (1997), describes these con-stituents that he calls ‘Tails’ as a type of Extra-clausal Concon-stituents (ECC). He defines the latter as follows:

(i) ECCs either occur on their own, or are typically set off from the clause proper by breaks or pause-like inflections in the prosodic contour; they are

‘bracketed-off’ from the clause by such prosodic features.

(ii) ECCs are never essential to the internal structure of the clause with which they are associated; when they are left out, the clause still forms an integral whole.

(iii) ECCs are not sensitive to the grammatical rules which operate within the limits of the clause, although they may be related to the clause by rules of coreference, parallelism, and antithesis which may also characterize relations between clauses in ongoing discourse.

(Dik 1997: 381)


He distinguishes four different functions of ECCs with respect to the structure and organization of discourse events: interactional management (greetings, addresses, minimal responses, etc), attitude specification (expressives), discourse organization (boundary marking, orientation, Tails), and discourse execution (responses, tags).

Here we are mostly interested in the third function of ECCs, i.e. the discourse organization.

Dik divides the measures taken in order to secure a proper organization of the discourse over three pragmatic functions: boundary marking, orientation and Tail. Regarding point ii) or the option to leave out these constituents, this can be true from the grammatical viewpoint in the sense that the main clause will still remain grammatical, but certainly not from the pragmatic and semantic viewpoint, since the main clause contains only a resumptive pronoun and the final element can have different functions in discourse, as will be shown in chapter 8 dedicated to final detachments.

Languages differ in the frequency with which they use constructions of this type (Dik 1997: 401):

The clause may be followed by loosely adjoined constituents which add bits of information which may be relevant to a correct understanding of the clause. Such constituents may also be added to parts of a clause, for example, to terms.

They are mostly described as constituents that present information meant to clarify or modify (some constituent contained in) the unit to which they are adjoined.


I like John very much, our brother I mean.


John gave the book to a girl, in the library.

This example (16), however, is not a final detachment in the sense of the present investigation, as there is no resumptive coreferential pronoun in the main clause.

According to Dik, Tail may also occur as parenthetical insertions within the clause (ibidem: 401–402).

Tails cannot usually be produced in absolute form, because they are always adjoined to some preceding material and thus must carry the correspondent marking, cf. an example from Russian:


v etom magazine ix mnogo, televizorov (*televizory).

this.PREP shop.PREP they.ACC many (*

77 An example from oral Estonian:


E: aga (0.4) ega te Ilmest ei tea midagi

but NEG.PRTCL Ilme.ELA NEG know.NEG.2pl something.PART

Neeme õest

Neeme.GEN sister.ELA Q

‘But (0.4) don’t you know anything about Ilme, the sister of Neeme?’


In this example, instead of a resumptive pronoun there is the name of a person in the main clause, which is specified in the detached construction, allowing to identify better the referent in question.

In studies with a Conversational Analysis background the final detachments have been among others described as a conversational repair strategy in the sense of Schegloff (1979):

S, after having produced a pronominal element in the body of the clause, fearing that the reference may not be clear, adds more explicit information in the Tail;

The repair is most often ‘self-initiated’;

It is usually preceded by a short pause;

It is often accompanied by a metacommunicative expression such as I mean;

The strategy is typically used when in the eyes of S there may be a lack of clarity concerning the reference. This occurs especially when (i) the pronominal element in the clause might be taken as coreferential to more than one entity in the preceding discourse, (ii) when the referent is ‘inferable’ (SubTopic) rather than explicitly mentioned in the preceding discourse; such SubTopics are typically part-new, part-given, and S cannot always be certain that A has already established the appropriate ‘bridging assumptions’. (citation by Dik 1997: 403)

This constituent will be dealt with in greater detail in the chapter dedicated to final detachments.



Im Dokument MARRI AMON Initial and final detachments in spoken Estonian: a study in the framework of Information Structuring (Seite 74-78)