Subject, topic, and agent: accounting for the addressee in instructions in English, German, and Spanish

Murcia-Serra, Jorge

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Document Type: Article
Year of publication: 1999
The title of a journal, publication series: Linguistics
Volume: 37
Issue number: 1
Page range: 13-40
Place of publication: Berlin [u.a.]
Publishing house: Mouton de Gruyter
ISSN: 0024-3949 , 1613-396X
Publication language: English
Institution: Zentrale Einrichtungen > University Library
Subject: 400 Language, linguistics
Abstract: The present paper presents a study on the functional assignment of the category subject in the production of instructions in English, German, and Spanish. It could be shown that the choice between the two natural candidates for this position (agent and topic) is determined by the conceptual accessibility of the entity functioning as agent and whether it is given in the communicative situation as specific or nonspecific (addressee present or absent). Presence or absence has different effects depending on the language. The unspecific agent is encoded in English and German preferentially in the subject position, while Spanish in the same situation shows a tendency to use the subject category to encode topic information, not mentioning the agent of the instructions. The specific agent, on the contrary, is encoded in Spanish as subject, while in English and German it remains mostly unmentioned, These differences reflect the linguistic means offered by the three languages to code the specificity of an agent and lead to a different conceptualization in organizing information for expression (thinking for speaking). They reflect an object-oriented versus an agent-oriented perspective depending on the communicative situation.

Dieser Datensatz wurde nicht während einer Tätigkeit an der Universität Mannheim veröffentlicht, dies ist eine Externe Publikation.

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