On assigning pragmatic functions in English

J. Lachlan Mackenzie and Evelien Keizer

Abstract

This paper presents a discussion of the treatment of the pragmatic functions Topic and Focus in Functional Grammar (Dik: 1989, ch. 13). Two questions will be addressed: (a) the theoretical question of how the interface between the static grammar (dealing with a discourse as the product of text-creating activity) and the dynamic theory of verbal interaction (dealing with discourse as the ongoing text-creating process itself) is handled with regard to pragmatic functions; and (b) the practical question whether the reader of Dik (1989) finds a set of proposals that can be operationalized in the analysis of linguistic material. With regard to the former question we conclude that in the present FG treatment of Topic and Focus, the static and the dynamic approaches do not connect and that, as a result, the speaker’s selection of constituents for Topic or Focus function is left unaccounted for. As for the second question, we show that Dik’s proposal can be put into practice, but that the resultant analysis suffers from a number of inconsistencies and unclarities. Finally, we argue that most of these inconsistencies and unclarities can be solved if (1) we accept a different classification of Focus, and (2) assume that Topic assignment is irrelevant in English, as there is no consistent way in which Topic constituents are given special treatment, and Pl-placement can be accounted for without having to resort to Topic function.

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