Filling the German vorfeld in written and spoken discourse

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The sentence-initial position (vorfeld) in German is filled in accordance with discourse structural consideration. Several types of elements compete for this position. Their distribution can be modelled by Stochastic Optimality Theory. It is filled in general by phrases that have at least one of the following functions: scene-setting elements, contrast, topic. In conflict cases the functions are ranked scene-setting >> contrast >> topic. In dialogic discourse other considerations play a role, too, such as the explicit marking of origo (deictic center) and rhetorical relation. Two additional constraints, dann-vorfeld and subject-pronoun-vorfeld, can be fit in; the ranking including those would be dann, scene-setting >> subject-pronoun, contrast >> topic. After insertions, the re-introduction of the topic is sensitive to which of the participants started the insertion: topics re-introduced by another participant than the one starting the insertion pattern rather with contrastive elements.


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