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Book: Information Structure in Spoken English

Chapter: Critical Review of Other Theories of Information Structure

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.43960


In this chapter I will examine other functional and pragmatic theories of information structure in order to see if insights from these theories can help overcome the issues mentioned in the previous chapter. The theories examined will be (i) FSP which examines information structure in terms of communicative dynamism as operationalised by the combined presentation and quality scales set out by Firbas, (ii) work which questions the binarity of Given and New and presents the information status of referents in a tripartite scale e.g. Prince and Kaltenbock. These scholars sees the lexicogrammar as a series of contextualising cues which allow hearers to infer informational status in individual contexts (iii) the functional syntactic model associated with Lambrecht which argues that sentence structure reflects speaker’s assumptions of the hearer’s knowledge and awareness. This leads to an analysis of propositional information such as presuppositions and assertions, identifiable information in relation to activation and referential information in relation to topic. I will take issue though with some of the claims re universal cognitive processes (iv) the givenness hierarchy as proposed by Gundel and colleagues. This hierarchy focuses on a mix of referential and identifiable information and I will argue unnecessary blurs the distinction between the two (v) interactional sociolinguistic approaches to units such as TCUs and (vi) linear incremental grammars which see language use emerging as a sequences of anticipations. Both (v) and (vi) are concerned with propositional information and have much to say about how propositional information is exchanged. In addition there will be a brief critical review of shared knowledge and theory of mind in order to illustrate a mechanism where interactants can be said to share information in the broadest sense. I will argue ultimately against theory of mind while recognising that people are disposed to treat others as if they have access to the same culturally specific knowledge.

This is a crucial chapter as it aims to show the state of the art in non SFL theories of information structure in spoken English and to disentangle the different meanings of information structure.

Chapter Contributors

  • Gerard O'Grady ( - gogrady) 'Cardiff University'