Theme, Rheme, and Word Order
From Weil to Present-Day Theories
Henri Weil’s thesis, published in Paris during the first half of the 19th century, is the first cogent theory of word order in European linguistics. Weil’s work is the first to argue that discourse structure has an effect on the internal structure of the sentence. His ideas are the direct ancestors of the concepts ‘psychological subject’ and ‘psychological predicate’ which so highly influenced stylistic work into the 20th century. Weil’s insights had very little direct influence on French linguistics but are the source of V. Mathesius’ ‘theme’ end ‘rheme’ and the subsequent Prague School theory of word order. This paper presents an overview of Weil’s thesis, followed by a critical evaluation, in the light of Weil’s work, of a sample of later studies on French word order. The fundamental concepts of Weil’s theory are traced into 20th-century linguistics, with particular attention to their evolution in Prague School theory. Finally, a brief survey of work in generative grammar on discourse and the sentence is presented. In conclusion it is claimed that the rediscovery in formal grammar of the role of discourse structure in shaping the internal structure of the sentence is a comtemporary confirmation of Weil’s thesis.
Published online: 01 January 1978
Cited by 4 other publications
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Gundel, Jeanette K.
Halliday, M. A. K.
Sgall, Petr, Eva Hajičová, and Eva Benečová