Sentence Structure (4): information structure

1. organizing information; ways:
When we talk about a situation, we can usually organize the information in various ways - for instance, by choosing different elements of the situation as the subject of a clause or sentence.
Examples:
'The storm' blew Margaret's roof off.
'Margaret's roof' was blown off in the storm.
'Margaret' had her roof blown off in the storm.
The way we choose to organize information in a clause or sentence can depend on what has been said before, on what the listener already knows, or on what we want to emphasize.

2. normal order: important new information last
Most often, a clause or sentence moves from 'known' to new: from low to high information value. So we often choose as the subject a person or thing that is already being talked about or that has already been mentioned., or something that the speaker and listener are both familiar with. The important new information generally comes at the end of a clause or sentence.
Examples:
How's Joe these days? ˞ Oh, fine. 'He's' just got married to a very nice girl.
(More natural than...A very nice girl's just got married to him)
'My father' was bitten by dog last week.
(More natural than...A dog bit my father last week.)
'Our dog' bit the postman this morning.
(More natural than...The postman was bitten by our dog this morning.)
I can't find my clothes. ˞ Well, your trousers are under my coat.
(More natural than... My coat's on your trousers.)
We can use the 'there structure to avoid beginning a clause with a completely new element.
- 'There's' a cat in the roof. (More natural than...A cat's on the roof.)

3. getting the right subject: actives, passives, etc.
In most aspects, there's an 'agent' (subject) and a 'patient'(object). If we want to make the agent the subject, we can usually do this by choosing an active verb form.
Examples:
Margaret's roof was blown off in the storm.
Ketchup has been dropped all over the floor.
If we want to make something else the subject, we can often apply this structure: have + object + past participle
Examples:
Margaret had her roof blown off in the storm.
The floor has had ketchup dropped all over it.

Structures with have are often used to 'personalize' a situation by making a person the subject.
- I've got the house full of children. (Instead of The house is full of children. OR There are children all over the house.)
We can often get the subject we want by choosing the right verb. Compare:
- The biscuit factory employs 7,000 people.
7,000 people work for the biscuit factory.
- He led the children through the silent streets.
The children followed him through the silent streets.

4. end-weight:
longer and heavier structures usually come last in a clause or sentence.
- Children are sometimes discouraged by the length of time it takes to learn a musical instrument. (More natural than...The length of time it takes to learn a musical instrument sometimes discourages children.)

5. emphatic structures:
Ways of giving emphasis extra emphasis to one part of a sentence:
a. use a 'clef' sentence' with it or what: this emphasis one idea by putting everything else into a subordinate clause.
- It was my mother who finally called the police.
- What I need is a hot bath and a drink.
b. ('fronting') is common in speech, where intonation can make the information structure clear.
- The other plans we'll look at next week. Nice man, Joe.
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