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VO-OV alternations and information structure in North Sami

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Tea and biscuits from 17.45

It is well-known from several languages that variable object placement tends to interact with information structure. Some examples from current languages are Object Shift in Scandinavian (Holmberg 1999, Andréasson 2008, Josefsson 2010, Mikkelsen 2011, Bentzen et al. 2013), object scrambling in German and Dutch (Corver & van Riemsdijk 1994, de Hoop 2000, Haider 2005), and VO-OV alternations in Slavic languages (e.g. Junghanns & Zybatow 1995, Sekerina 2003, Mykhaylyk 2009) and e.g. in Finnish (Vilkuna 1989, 1995, 2014, Holmberg 2000). For Finnish, it has been suggested that objects that are old information, carry contrastive stress, or are in some way D-linked or specific are the ones that tend to occur in the OV-pattern. (Holmberg 2000, Boef & Dal Pozzo 2012).

This paper addresses VO-OV alternations in the Finno-Ugric language North Sami. North Sami is an SVO language, as shown in (1), but SOV order also occurs, (2).

(1) Mun lean oastán alit buvssaid. (VO)

I.NOM have bought blue pants.ACC
‘I have bought blue pants.’

(2) Mun lean alit buvssaid oastán . (OV)

I.NOM have blue pants.ACC bought
‘I have bought blue pants.’

Very little work has been done on this word order alternation in North Sami. While native speakers typically have the intuition that the alternation between the two orders varies quite freely, the standard grammar (Nickel & Sammallahti 2011) states that OV only is occasionally available when something in the clause is emphasized. Vilkuna (1998) argues that OV word order is available when the subject is focused. In this paper, I investigate the nature of VO-OV alternation in North Sami in more detail, primarily based on results from experimentally elicited production. My investigations confirm that VO indeed is the most common and default word order. However, OV is certainly both accepted and used to some extent. My results indicate that variable object placement is neither random nor completely optional, but rather guided by certain discourse effects. While there is quite a bit of variation among speakers, certain tendencies can be found, suggesting that the alternation clearly is linked to information structure of the overall clause and discourse, but also on the types of objects and verbs involved. As I will show in my presentation, factors that typically facilitate the OV order include (i) objects as given information/topics, (ii) focus on some other constituent in the clause, (iii) shape of the verb and the object (OV more frequent with non-finite main verbs and with pronominal objects).

Kristine Bentzen is Professor of English and Nordic Linguistics at the University of Tromsø in Northern Norway. Her research mainly focuses on Norwegian, English and North Sami. She is currently running a project on child language acquisition in North Sami, called DASAGO .

This talk is part of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group series.

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