Monday, November 23, 2015 - 13:30

Strategies for cohesive dialogues in Scandinavian


In many languages, starting a sentence or an utterance with something other than the subject is a marked option which has to be licensed by some discourse function, as in the case of questions (1) or so-called topicalization (2).
(1) What did she say?  (2) That/*it I don’t like. (I’d rather have some …)

In English, topicalized constituents are normally stressed and invoke a notion of contrast; an unstressed personal pronoun is not felicitous, as shown in (2). In the mainland Scandinavian languages, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, preposing of unstressed pronouns is quite common as a way to connect an utterance to the preceding context, as illustrated by the Swedish example in (3).

(3) A: Var är cykeln? [where is bike-DEF] B: Den ställde jag i garaget. [it put I in garage-DEF.]

In order to find out when this type of preposing is used in dialogue, Filippa Lindahl and I carried out a search in the Nordic Dialect Corpus, a 2.5 million word corpus of spontaneous conversations (Johannesen et al 2009). In my talk I will show that the strategies used are in line with the three types of thematic progression, proposed by i.a. Daneš (1974).

Daneš, F. 1974. Functional sentence perspective and the organization of the text. In F. Daneš (ed.), Papers on functional sentence perspective, 106–128. Prague – The Hague & Paris.
Johannessen, J. B. et al. 2009. The Nordic Dialect Corpus – an Advanced Research Tool. In Proceedings of the 17th Nordic Conference of Computational Linguistics NODALIDA 2009. NEALT Proceedings Series Volume 4.

After having completed an MA at Uppsala University, I studied linguistics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. It was there that I discovered that Swedish is an interesting language from a general linguistic perspective. My PhD thesis from 1980 dealt with the syntax and semantics of questions in Swedish and was supervised by Barbara Partee. I was post-doctoral fellow in Cognitive Science at Stanford University, research fellow at the Max-Planck-Institute for psycho-linguistics at Nijmegen and at Lund University and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and reader at the Centre for Cognitive Science (nowadays part of the School of Informatics) and the Human Communication Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh. In 1995 I came to the University of Gothenburg and in 2004 I became professor of Swedish. I was a member of the Swedish Research Council between 2000 and 2013. In 2008 I was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities and in 2010 to the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg. I became honorary doctor at Lund University in 2012.