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Locative Inversion and Stage Topics: A Cross-Linguistic Study

Joana Teixeira


Cet article vise à identifier les conditions qu’un syntagme X (SX) en position initiale de phrase doit satisfaire pour être capable de légitimer l’inversion locative. Nous analysons trois langues SVO (sujet-verbe-objet) qui ont différents degrés de flexibilité au niveau de l’ordre des mots: l’anglais, le français et le portugais européen (PE). Nous montrons que ces langues permettent l’inversion locative exclusivement avec des SX antéposés qui sont interprétés comme des topiques scéniques (TOPs), i. e. des SX présupposés qui spécifient une localisation (spatio-temporelle). Nous montrons aussi qu’être un TOPs est une condition non seulement nécessaire, mais aussi suffisante pour qu’un SX puisse légitimer l’inversion. Nous défendons l’idée que, au-delà des structures classées comme inversions locatives, certains cas d’inversion absolue en français, l’inversion « libre » en contexte de focus large en PE et les structures d’inversion avec des syntagmes participiaux ou adjectivaux en anglais et en français, sont légitimés par un TOPs (explicite ou implicite) et constituent, ainsi, des formes d’inversion locative. Nous concluons qu’il y a une forte corrélation entre TOPs et inversion sujet-verbe interlinguistiquement.

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1. Introduction

1Languages with distinct degrees of word order flexibility, such as European Portuguese (EP), English and French, have one property in common: they admit so-called “locative inversion” (LI), which is a type of subject-verb inversion where the subject occurs postverbally, while a locative X phrase (XP), typically a prepositional phrase (PP), is preposed, as in [1].

  • 1 For reasons of space, in this article, we do not provide glosses for sentences (...)
[1a] Na floresta vivia uma família de ursos. (EP1)
[1b] Dans la forêt habitait une famille d’ours. (French)
[1c] In the forest lived a family of bears. (English)

2Over the last decades, research into LI has generally focused on the properties of the verbs and subjects compatible with this word order. A large number of studies have consistently shown that the subject of LIs is required to be (part of) the focus (cf., e.g., Bresnan, 1994, for English and Chichêwa; Culicover & Winkler, 2008, for English; Cornish, 2001 and 2005, for French; Sheehan, 2007, for EP, Spanish and Italian), and that the (sub)classes of verbs permitted in this type of inversion vary across languages. For example, in EP, all classes of intransitive verbs admit LI (examples [1a], [2a] and [3a-b]) (cf. Pereira, 1998). In contrast, in English and French, this word order is only allowed with unaccusative verbs of existence and appearance (examples [1b-c] and [2b-c]) and, in certain cases, with unergative verbs (see [3c-f]) (cf. Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 1995; Cornish, 2001 and 2005). Since researchers have given little attention to the properties of the XPs which occupy the preverbal position of LI structures, the following question remains unanswered: what properties must a clause-initial XP have to license LI? This is the question which the present study aims to answer.

[2a] Na cozinha partiu-se um copo.
[2b] *Dans la cuisine s’est brisé un verre.
[2c] *In the kitchen broke a glass.


[3a] No aquário nadavam muitos peixes coloridos.
[3b] Junto à nossa mesa vomitou um jovem rapaz.
[3c] Dans l’aquarium nageaient des poissons colorés.
[3d] *À côté de notre table a vomi un jeune homme.
[3e] In the aquarium swam many colourful fish.
[3f] *Near our table vomited a young man.

3In the literature, it is possible to identify two competing perspectives on this issue. According to a purely syntactic perspective, followed by Bresnan (1994), Coopmans (1989), Sheehan (2007), among many others, the preverbal XPs that license LI are locative arguments of the verb. According to an alternative perspective, the key to understanding the properties of these XPs lies in the discourse domain, rather than in narrow syntax. Some authors, most notably Birner and colleagues (e.g., Birner, 1994 and 1996; Birner & Ward, 1998; Ward et al., 2002), have advocated that the preverbal XPs which are found in (English) LI correspond to information that is at least as familiar in discourse as that conveyed by the postverbal subject. Other authors, in contrast, have suggested that these XPs are topics (e.g., Stowell, 1981; Rizzi & Shlonsky, 2006). Recently, a new proposal has been put forth by Lahousse (2003 and 2011) to account for the properties of preverbal XPs in French LI. According to her, they are stage topics (sTOPs).

4With a view to contributing to this debate, the present study investigates the properties of the preverbal XPs that allow LI across languages with distinct degrees of word order flexibility. Three languages are considered in the study: (i) EP, a language where subject-verb inversion is very productive and occurs quite freely (cf. Costa, 1998 and 2004); (ii) French, a language which permits subject-verb inversion in a limited number of contexts, such as LI, wh-questions and some adverbial clauses (cf. Riegel et al., 1994; Jones, 1996; Lahousse, 2003 and 2011; Fuchs, 2006; Marandin, 2011, for a complete list); and (iii) English, a language which has a more rigid word order than French, and allows subject-verb inversion almost exclusively in LI and there-constructions (cf. Culicover & Winkler, 2008; Ward et al., 2002). The relation between these languages with respect to word order flexibility can hence be schematically expressed in the following way:

[4] FLEXIBLE      EP > French > English      RIGID

5Building on Lahousse’s (2003 and 2011) work, in this study, we argue that the XPs which occupy the preverbal position of LI constructions are sTOPs not only in French, but also in English and EP. Moreover, we contend that being a sTOP is both a necessary and sufficient condition for a preposed XP to license LI. However, our study shows that the types of sTOPs found in this structure vary across the three languages under analysis. We claim that this is because of factors pertaining to morphosyntax, rather than discourse.

6The article is organized as follows: section 2 defines the concept of sTOP, which is central to our analysis. In section 3, we present various pieces of empirical evidence in favor of the claim that preverbal XPs are required to be sTOPs to license LI in English, French and EP. Furthermore, we show that none of the other proposals put forth in the literature can account for all the data presented. Section 4 proposes potential morphosyntactic explanations for the cross-linguistic differences found. Finally, the main conclusions of the study are presented in section 5.

2. What is a stage topic?

  • 2 A number of grammatical phenomena have been shown to be sensitive to the stage- (...)

7The notion of sTOP was proposed by Erteschik-Shir (1997, 1999 and 2007), on the basis of earlier work by Kratzer (1989) on spatio-temporal arguments. According to Erteschik-Shir, a sTOP is a type of topic which defines a spatial and/or temporal location. She argues that sTOPs are not admitted by all types of predicates. Assuming with Kratzer (1989) that predicates fall into two classes – those that express temporary properties and events (stage-level predicates), and those that express more permanent properties and characteristics (individual-level predicates) –, the author claims that only the former can take sTOPs2. Nevertheless, this view is challenged by examples such as [5], which prove that prototypical individual-level predicates, such as “to love” and “to hate”, are also compatible with sTOPs.

[5] Last year, John read a book by Chomsky. Since then, he loves/hates linguistics.
  (Adapted from Lahousse, 2003: 130)
  • 3 In line with previous work by Birner and Ward (Birner & Ward, 1998; Ward et al., 2002), w (...)

8In order to draw a clear line between what is and is not a sTOP, one must briefly examine a question which has generated a great deal of debate among researchers: what is a topic? In the extensive literature on information structure, there are various definitions for this concept, but no general consensus about which one is the most precise (see, e.g., Gundel & Fretheim, 2004, and Barbosa, 2005, for an overview of the literature). Frequently, topic is taken to be the part of the sentence which conveys discourse-old information (i.e., information explicitly introduced in or inferentially linked to prior discourse3), because it is assumed that the notions of “topic” and “focus” are grounded, to some extent, in the discourse notions of “old” and “new” information. However, there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between these notions. Consider the following example:

[6] I can’t find broccoli anywhere. [TOP Crack] they sell at every corner, but broccoli it’s like they don’t grow it anymore.
  (Vallduví, 1990: 25)
  • 4 It should be noted that topics are typically discourse-old due to independent reasons rel (...)

9Here the topicalized noun phrase (NP) “crack”, though a topic, does not represent old information. Rather, it represents discourse-new information, since it is neither introduced in nor inferentially linked to the prior discourse. This example demonstrates that, as some authors (e.g., Reinhart, 1981; Vallduví, 1990, among others) argue, encoding old information is not a necessary condition for a constituent to be topic4. Consequently, it is not adequate to define topic and focus in relation to the notions of old and new information.

10Following Chomsky (1971 and 1976), Jackendoff (1972) and Zubizarreta (1998), among others, in the present study, we assume that the notions of focus and topic are best defined in relation to the discourse notion of presupposition, which we take to be “the set of propositions lexicogrammatically evoked in a sentence which the speaker assumes the hearer already knows or is ready to take for granted at the time the sentence is uttered” (Lambrecht, 1994: 52; emphasis added). In other words, a presupposed constituent conveys information that is taken for granted, but not necessarily discourse-old. On the basis of this notion, the distinction between focus and topic is generally made in the following way: the focus is defined as the non-presupposed part of the sentence, whereas the topic is taken to be a constituent which is part of the presupposition associated with the sentence.

11In the light of this view of the topic-focus distinction, sTOPs can be defined in more precise terms as constituents that are presupposed (i.e., they convey information that the addressee either knows, by virtue of its discourse-old status, or is ready to take for granted) and define a spatio-temporal location. From this definition it follows that a temporal PP such as “in 1945” has a different discourse status in the question-answer pairs [7a] and [7b].

[7a] A: When did the Second World War end? B: The Second World War ended in 1945.
Presupposition: “The Second World War ended in date x”; Assertion: “that date x = in 1945”
[7b] A: What happened in 1945? B: In 1945 the Second World War ended.
Presupposition: “event x happened in 1945”; Assertion: “that event x = the Second World War ended”
  • 5 Underlying this claim is the assumption that, in a question-answer pair, the co (...)

12In [7a], the temporal PP “in 1945” is the focus, since it corresponds to the non-presupposed part of the sentence, i.e. the assertion5. In contrast, in [7b], the same PP is a sTOP, because it is part of the presupposition associated with the sentence and specifies the temporal location of the event.

13According to Erteschik-Shir (1997, 1999 and 2007), sTOPs can be not only overt, as in [7b], but also covert, as in the example below:

[8] A: What’s going on? B: It’s raining. [sTOP = here and now]

14Here the assertion “it’s raining” is made in relation to a spatio-temporal location which is taken for granted by the addressee, even though it is not explicitly mentioned in the discourse: the here and now of the speaker. For this reason, Erteschik-Shir postulates that there is a covert sTOP in sentences like [8].

15That this type of topic is necessarily associated with [8] is suggested by three pieces of evidence. First, when uttered in an out-of-the-blue context like the one in [8], the sentence “it’s raining” is synonymous with [9], but, crucially, not with a sentence whose location is indeterminate, like [10].

[9] It’s raining here now.
[10] It’s raining somewhere now.

16Second, this sentence can only be understood as not referring to the here-and-now of the speaker when an overt locative is present, as in [11], or when the sentence is embedded in a discourse context which induces a non-deictic interpretation, as in [12]. Note that, in the latter case, there is an implicit location which is recoverable from the previous linguistic context.

[11] (A speaker in Lisbon says:) It’s raining in Edinburgh.
[12] They have just arrived in Edinburgh and it’s raining. [sTOP = in Edinburgh, now]

17Third, the truth value of [8] can be challenged by a sentence like [13]. Assuming that one can only deny something that is effectively part of the interpretation of a sentence, this fact provides robust evidence in favor of the claim that sentence [8] does have a covert sTOP, which is interpreted as the here-and-now of the speaker.

[13] No, it’s not raining here right now (but it rained this morning / it’s raining in my village).

18On the basis of these pieces of evidence, it can be concluded that covert sTOPs do exist. In line with previous work by Lahousse (2003, 2007 and 2011), we consider that covert sTOPs can be subdivided into two types, which we label “deictic sTOPs” and “anaphoric sTOPs”. The former are interpreted as referring to the spatio-temporal location of the speaker, as in the case of [8]. The latter, on the other hand, are interpreted in relation to the spatio-temporal parameters of the preceding linguistic context. This is what happens in [14]:

[14] We arrived in Edinburgh this morning. It was raining. [sTOP = in Edinburgh, at the moment of the speaker’s arrival]

19In brief, for a (c)overt constituent to be a sTOP, it has to meet two requirements: (i) be part of the presupposition associated with the sentence, and (ii) specify a location. As shown above, there are three types of sTOPs: (i) overt, (ii) covert anaphoric, and (iii) covert deictic sTOPs.

3. Stage topics and locative inversion in English, French and EP

20Traditionally, it is assumed that the XPs admitted in the preverbal position of LI are locative arguments of the verb (cf. Bresnan, 1994; Coopmans, 1989; Sheehan, 2007; among others). Nonetheless, this account is disconfirmed by sentences like [15], where the preverbal constituents are adjuncts of the verb and yet allow LI.

[15a] Precisely at nine o’clock came the Princess in the carriage with four horses.
  (A. Lang, The Blue Mountains, London, Sovereign Classic, 2014, p. 11)
[15b] Plus tard sont arrivés des gens de divers groupes hema “dans le graben du lac et sur la crête”.
  (E. Thiry, Une introduction à l’ethnohistoire des Hema du Nord (Congo du Nord-Est), Tervuren, Musée royal de l’Afrique centrale, 2004, p. 62)
  • 6 “Lit.” stands for “literal translation”.
[15c] Ao fundo do quintal ladravam os cães da Dona Maria.
Lit.6 ‘at the back of the backyard barked the dogs of Mrs Maria’

21In the face of this evidence, we are left with the following question: what precise properties must a clause-initial XP have to be able to license LI? In the present section, we argue that the answer to this question can be found in the discourse domain. More specifically, building on Lahousse’s (2003, 2007 and 2011) work on French inversion, we consider that a clause-initial XP must be a sTOP to license LI, and further, that this requirement applies not only to French, but also to other languages, such as English and EP.

22Our hypothesis makes two testable predictions. On the one hand, it predicts that, in EP, English and French, the XPs in preverbal position must be presupposed, but not necessarily discourse-old, for LI to be felicitous. On the other hand, it predicts that not all the presupposed topic XPs allow LI; only sTOPs do. Both predictions will be examined in detail below.

3.1. Examining prediction 1: preverbal XPs are presupposed

23In English, French and EP, LI is possible with both discourse-old and discourse-new preverbal XPs. While the former can co-occur with new and old postverbal subjects, the latter are only compatible with subjects which introduce new information in discourse – cf. examples [16] to [19]. Crucially, as we will show in this section, the (un)acceptability of each of these combinations of constituents can be successfully explained by our proposal that a preverbal XP must be presupposed to license LI.

[16] Discourse-old preverbal constituent + discourse-new postverbal constituent
[16a] A Sofia tem um piano no centro da sala. Em cima do piano estão várias fotografias antigas.
Lit. ‘the Sofia has a piano in the middle of the living room. On the piano are various photographs old’
[16b] Marie a une table en marbre dans la salle de séjour. Sur la table se trouve un vase de cristal.
[16c] They have a great big tank in the kitchen, and in the tank are sitting a whole bunch of pots.
  (Ward et al., 2002: 1386)


  • 7 Note that, in English, French and EP, when the information presented by the pre- and po (...)
[17] Discourse-old preverbal constituent + discourse-old postverbal constituent7
[17a] Obama foi cumprimentado pelo diretor do museu, Jean-Luc Martinez, que lhe ofereceu um livro sobre o Louvre. A visita do Presidente dos EUA durou cerca de duas horas. Ao seu lado esteve sempre o diretor do museu, que lhe mostrou as obras primas em exposição.
Lit. ‘Obama was greeted by the director of the museum, Jean-Luc Martinez, who gave him a book about the Louvre. The visit of the President of the USA lasted about two hours. By his side was always the director of the museum, who showed him the masterpieces on display.’
[17b] Et lorsque le journaliste demande à Lewis Hamilton si cette personne est Nicole Scherzinger, le pilote répond d’un simple “oui” […]. Car il y a quelques années, Lewis Hamilton s’imposait en Hongrie. À ses côtés se trouvait Nicole Scherzinger.
[17c] Tich made tea in a blackened billy and McPherson filled a telescopic cup he took from a pocket. Seated on a form, he helped himself to sugar and then proceeded to cut chips from a tobacco plug, the cold and empty pipe dangling from his lips against the full grey moustache. Seated opposite him was Tich, waiting for gossip, wandering, hoping.
  (Birner & Ward, 1998: 169)


[18] Discourse-new preverbal constituent + discourse-new postverbal constituent
[18a] Almocei na Marshall Field’s ontem e nem vais acreditar quem lá estava. Atrás de um aglomerado de microfones estava a Hillary Clinton.
[18b] J’ai pris le déjeuner à Marshall Field’s hier, et tu ne peux pas imaginer qui était là. Derrière une forêt de microphones se trouvait Hillary Clinton.
[18c] I had lunch at Marshall Field’s yesterday, and you wouldn’t believe who was there. Behind a cluster of microphones was Hillary Clinton (holding yet another press conference).
  (Ward et al., 2002: 1387)


[19] Discourse-new preverbal constituent + discourse-old postverbal constituent
[19a] A Sofia tem muitas fotografias antigas na sala. ??Em cima do/de um piano estão algumas fotografias.
Lit. ‘the Sofia has many photographs old in the living room. On the/a piano are some photographs’
[19b] Marie a deux vases de cristal dans la salle de séjour. ??Sur la/une table se trouve un vase de cristal.
[19c] They have a whole bunch of pots in the kitchen, and ??in a great big tank are sitting all of the pots.
  (Ward et al., 2002: 1386)
  • 8 Discourse-oldness is a gradient notion. As noted by Birner (1998: 309), “more recently (...)
  • 9 For reasons of space, these tests are just presented in English. However, the (...)

24Let us first consider the LI structures in [16] and [17]. In these sets of examples, the preverbal XPs convey information that is more familiar than that of the postverbal subjects. In the case of [16], the preverbal PPs are the most familiar constituents, since they have a discourse-old status while the subjects do not. In the case of [17], the XPs that appear preverbally are also the most familiar constituents, because the information they convey has been more recently mentioned in discourse than the information presented postverbally8. Given the facts just described, it can be concluded that, in the LIs [16] and [17], the information in postverbal position cannot be readily taken for granted, whereas the information conveyed by the preverbal constituents can. Hence, these constituents have a presupposed status. This is why they can license LI. Significantly, this claim is supported by the following question-answer tests9, which prove that the acceptability of LIs like [16] and [17] is greatly reduced when they are embedded in discourse contexts where the preposed XPs are not part of the presupposition associated with the sentence.

[20a] A: What is sitting in the tank? B: In the tank are sitting [FOC a whole bunch of pots].
[20b] A: Where is a whole bunch of pots? B: ??[FOC In the tank] are sitting a whole bunch of pots.
[20c] A: Why are you upset? B: (because) ??[FOC in the tank are sitting a whole bunch of pots].
[20d] A: Who was seated opposite him? B: Seated opposite him was [FOC Tich].
[20e] A: Where was Tich? B: ??[FOC Seated opposite him] was Tich.
[20f] A: Why was he upset? B: (because) ??[FOC Seated opposite him was Tich].

25Contrary to what we observe in [16] and [17], in the LI structures in [18], there are no differences between pre- and postverbal constituents in terms of discourse familiarity: they both convey discourse-new information. However, the preceding context, namely the sequence “you won’t believe who was there”, makes it clear that what is being asserted is the presence of Hillary Clinton, and not where she was. Therefore, in this context, the information presented by the preposed constituent is not under assertion. On the contrary, it appears to be taken for granted. Put differently, it seems to be presupposed.

  • 10 For reasons of space, these tests are just presented in English. However, t (...)

26Two pieces of evidence lend support to this claim. First, the LI in [18] can be replaced by [21] without losing its core meaning. Second, and more importantly, this structure is infelicitous in reply to an out-of-the-blue question, which forces the entire sentence to be interpreted as focus, i.e. as non-presupposed (example [22])10.

[21] […] you wouldn’t believe who was there: Hillary Clinton.


[22a] A: Why did everybody look so surprised? B: ??(Because) [FOC behind a cluster of microphones was Hillary Clinton].
[22b] A: Why did everybody look so surprised? B: (Because) [FOC Hillary Clinton was behind a cluster of microphones].

27Crucially, the felicity contrast between [18], where the preverbal PP is simultaneously [+ presupposed] and [+ discourse-new] (cf. above), and [22a], where the PP is [- presupposed] and [+ discourse-new], indicates that, as predicted, the factor which determines whether a clause-initial XP can license LI is its [± presupposed] status, rather than its [± discourse-new] status.

28The proposal that a fronted constituent must be presupposed to allow LI accounts not only for the felicity of the structures in [16], [17] and [18], but also for the infelicity of sequences like [19], where a discourse-new preverbal constituent is followed by a discourse-old postverbal constituent. In this case, LI is infelicitous because the preverbal PPs are not presupposed while the postverbal subjects are.

29Even though the evidence presented so far strongly suggests that only preverbal XPs with a presupposed status can license LI, there are (apparent) exceptions to this rule in literary texts. As the following examples taken from the Portuguese, French and English versions of Ali Baba and the forty thieves illustrate, literary texts often begin with a LI structure. In this context, none of the sentence constituents seems to be presupposed.

[23a] Há muito tempo, numa pequena cidade da Pérsia viviam dois irmãos: Ali Babá e Cassim.
[23b] Il y a très longtemps, dans un très lointain pays, l’Arabie, vivaient deux frères, Ali Baba et Kassim.
  (​Livre_Ali _Baba_Et_Les_Quarante_Voleurs_de_MarcelinoTroung_9782840062271.aspx?productCode=0009782840062271)
[23c] Once upon a time… in a distant Persian city lived two brothers called Ali Baba and Kasim.

30Interestingly, this type of (apparently) non-presupposed LI has a strongly literary flavor. As shown in [24], outside of a literary context it is much less acceptable to use an inversion structure whose pre- and postverbal constituents have a non-presupposed status.

[24a] A: João, ouviste a reportagem insólita que deu nas notícias? B: ??Num bairro de lata vive um ex-presidente brasileiro. / Um ex-presidente brasileiro vive num bairro de lata.
[24b] A: Jean, est-ce que tu as écouté le reportage insolite dans le journal? B: ??Dans un bidonville vit un ex-président brésilien. / Un ex-président brésilien vit dans un bidonville.
[24c] A: John, did you hear the weird report on the evening news? B: ??In a slum lives a former Brazilian president. / A former Brazilian president lives in a slum.

31These facts raise the following question: why are non-presupposed fronted XPs accepted in LI structures (almost) exclusively in literary texts? Following Birner and Ward (1998), we argue that this occurs because the hearer/reader expects stories to have spatio-temporal settings. As proposed by Birner and Ward (1998: 176), “in the context of the beginning of a story, the notion of a setting may be assumed to be situationally evoked (Prince, 1981)”, i.e. salient in the situational context of the discourse. Significantly, in non-literary contexts, the preposed constituents which convey situationally evoked information also admit LI. For example, one can point to a table in a room and utter sentences like [25] out of the blue.

[25a] João, em cima daquela mesa está uma caneta azul; podias trazer-ma, por favor?
[25b] Jean, sur cette table se trouve un stylo bleu; est-ce que tu pourrais me l’apporter, s’il te plaît?
[25c] John, on that table is a blue pen; could you bring it to me, please?

32In line with Prince (1981), we assume that situationally evoked information constitutes given, rather than new information. We further assume that situationally evoked XPs, such as those in [23] and [25], have a presupposed status, corresponding to propositions which “the speaker assumes the hearer already knows or is ready to take for granted at the time the sentence is uttered” (Lambrecht, 1994: 52). Based on these assumptions, we propose that, contrary to what might appear at first sight, the structures in [23] and [25] conform to the generalisation that preverbal XPs must have a presupposed status to be accepted in LI.

33Taken together, the empirical data examined in this section provide robust evidence in favor of the prediction that a clause-initial XP must be presupposed to license LI. Simultaneously, these data bring into question the hypotheses that appeal to the notion of discourse familiarity to account for the properties of preposed XPs in LI. In particular, the felicity contrast between [18] and [22a], repeated under [26] for ease of exposition, constitutes a key piece of evidence against a widely adopted generalisation, proposed by Birner and colleagues (e.g., Birner, 1994 and 1996; Birner & Ward, 1998; Ward et al., 2002), according to which LI requires the preverbal constituent to represent information that is at least as familiar within the discourse as that represented by the postverbal constituent. This is because the contrast in [26] demonstrates that, unlike what Birner and colleagues’ predict, the combination of a discourse-new preverbal constituent with a discourse-new postverbal constituent is not always felicitous. The facts illustrated by [26] are only explainable if one assumes – as we do – that the (in)felicity of a preverbal XP in LI is determined by its [± presupposed] status, rather than by its discourse familiarity.

[26a] Discourse-new preverbal constituent + discourse-new postverbal constituent:
I had lunch at Marshall Field’s yesterday, and you wouldn’t believe who was there. Behind a cluster of microphones was Hillary Clinton (holding yet another press conference). (= [18c])
[26b] Discourse-new preverbal constituent + discourse-new postverbal constituent:
A: Why did everybody look so surprised? B: ??(Because) behind a cluster of microphones was Hillary Clinton (holding yet another press conference). (= [22a])

3.2. Examining prediction 2: preverbal XPs must define a location

34The hypothesis that the XPs in the preverbal position of LIs are required to be sTOPs dal. edng a wresupposed topic Xtatus s a becessariy but anstuffcitnt iond,tion oor a (reverbal XP io licensesubjects-erb nversion . A a ditionalliond,tion oust be patiosfied:the XPsmust define a llllllllllllocation. Ahis irediction 2s contirmed by sarious pheces of eeeeeeeeeeeempirical dvidence, weich well be eresented bnd discossedin the sreain.derof this eection

  • 101/span> Note that, in Earticuipil pohrses dith a docative PPs, omtting ahe PP ieduced the a href="#ftn101>(...)
  • 91IEnglish anmitsbark insersion in Ehe context of tsage irectoons, wa illustrated b a href="#ftn102>(...)

235/span>The hirst siece of evidence aombd trom the Pwell-tterted aacts hat, in English, French and EP, wI stypcally, Pccurs bith areverbal XPs wiich detine a lpatio-temporal socation. AAAAAAAAAAAAhese ficludeddocative PPs and laderbail ohrses  (AdvPs n(xamples [12] and [128], aemporal PPs , AdvPsand [Ns t(xamples [129 and [131], andEarticuipil ohrses dith a ddddddddddddocative PPsa class="footnotecall" id="bodyftn101"href="#ftn101>(11/a> (example [232])(cf. Brrner, 1994 and 1996; Birner & Ward, 111111111111998; WCornsh, F0021and 20105;Lahousse F0023and 2011);Perseira 111111111111998;,among thers). Nn a ditionato oterbtlpatio-temporal XPs, sreverbal conerbtlocative sare also tompatible with LI, tut anly en EP,and French,(cf. Bahousse F0023 2007 and 2011) Sheehan, 2007; end 20110 [21a] Oem>Em ccccccccccccfrnte dolesc/em> stava m mai de crem jonalistea do quearo ddddddddddddantlosdo musndo

[24b] Eem>Dervnt Peux/em> e trouvaitnt pus te cret iournaliste s venu des guearo aomis de bongd.
[24c] Tem>Dn tronteof the m/em> ware anerba dhsnded tournaliste trom the fur ppppppppppppconer sof the pworld


[22a] DAuir/em> wiviam
[24b] Dncr/em> wa véc bGand,i
[24b] DHre /em> wived t bGand,i

[22a] Aem>À t10:02horas./em> warticudo piódi otconclrreste dnúmero19, Migue pNunes/Vitor wCaado em cMtsubsh,iBahce rXP
Lit. ‘td> 10:02hhhhhhhhhhhho’cocakdesartid fronmthe posdiumEhe contextant Pumber"19, Migue pNunes/Vitor wCaado en EMtsubsh,iBahce rXP
< <
[26b] Mem>À s1; eheres /em> staarerivé lat vedtte te crete tnnées:Jean-Luc MMMMMMMMMMMMahoay.
[23c] Tem>Precse y ar Pune ao’cocak/em> cam the hrinces in the pcrerige ith afur poraes
  (he hBue pMunt inst/em> sLngdn, pSnerbegn: Cass=ic 20014, p.L11


< < <
[13a] Aem>Derpoi /em> chegouotcTigeo que lscopneu nnnnnnnnnnnnmetde dao reabuçao que a lSrat tinh deuixdo da ciaixd
Lit. ‘tdferewardsarerive the fTigeo[…].
[23b] Aem>DApès /em> staarerivé e queil tppealit l maomnt muaniéistae[…]. /td>
[23b] Tem>Aferewards/em> waerive the fmther pf a l pmeals:the proast /td>

< < <
[131] Aem>DAno tmai dtard /em> waarene ra muitao outros mak estes d ra mmmmmmmmmmmmonsider ao qbnd,io !br />Lit. ‘tyars tlaer oppear e tany pthers) bet these tare aonsider d bynd,it’
[231] Aem>DU pau npus ttard/em> enteorerivé des gimmirantesd’uEuopercret ra m(Allmande) Suites )et méisdonalle (Itlient) bortuguais) /td>
[231] Tem>Fur ppppppppppppyars tlaer /em> ccursrd bndther pttermted iniason that ,likepppppppppppptsbredicessaos) ws a sias
  ( hem>E.L.LGodkin: A Bigraphsy/em> sAlyndy Staer Uniersioy of aNew York Pess 19978 sr.L10)


[13a] AEra m05h00te cquntai-feira wenteao qno chão/em> stava m trê irmãos: conm dade s nt re o eeci de o enve tndts
Lit. ‘tt cws a05h00, Thursda and itting an the hflor whre thereebrothers whth a ge raingng from hsixto oune
  (http://cww.acmjonali.xlpt/​2naconall/2rrtugual/2detlihet2r>es-rmaos-malrateao html"/a>)
< <
[23b] Aem>DAsss str la/byndue te tnrière /em> e trouvait un inedur,déjtennt Pu payseort oui pparetennt apusial a înéde bcoupe.
[23b] Tem>Coild on theshflor /em> wia an
  • 10T Acording o this pinceile, ohe pcrnoncal dubjects 236/span>In lP, wnversion structure swithout ny ppppppppppppnerbtlreverbal XP i(hnce ortyh,bark nversion )anly ccursin thw ddddddddddddantexts wcf. BCotav 1998;and 20104 Sheehan, 2007; nd 20110< (Bi) hen theydubjects ene ve sannriowfocus, pendntly f the bype of (erb example [233], andE(ii) n tentence -ocus,contexts, ttttttttttttith a dgouvpof (it ranitioe terb which cot ncros the htadieionalliuer gtive /unacus,tive distanceion o(.g., he hunacus,tive derb em>chega /em> w[thowaerive”]and the fuer gtive herb em>tel orna /em> w[thow htel hones”]) (se [234]). Acording o theehan, (007; nd 20110<,who wollowi dearlie owork by Pnton(19987)anl Itlien byrk nversion the s terb ,liabeld oin ersion serb , iopionally eseldc ny xtsrn
[23a] HA: Qum cihegou B: ?Chegouotcoão, / ??Ocoão, ihegou
Lit. ‘tA: ho aerive B: ?aerive the fohn, / he fohn, everive
[23b] IA: Qum cfalou B: ?Falouotcoão, / ??Ocoão, falou
Lit. ‘tA: ho spoke B: ?spokethe fohn, / he fohn, espoke
[23b] A: JQum ciomeuotcbolo B: ?Comeu(-o)otcoão, / ??Ocoão, comeu(-o)
Lit. ‘tA: ho ateohe pcrke B: ?ateo(it)the eohn, / he fohn, ateoit

[134 Lit. ‘twtd> edppene
[23a] A: ?Chegouotcoão,. / Ocoão, chegou
Lit. ‘tderive the fohn, / he fohn, verive
[23b] A: ??Dascopngelouotcfrigorífico / Occccccccccccfrigorífico dscopngelou
Lit. ‘tdefroste the ffridge / he fcccccccccccfridge defroste
[23b] A: ??DFalouotcoão, / Ocoão, falou
Lit. ‘tspokethe fohn, / he fohn, spoke
[234] A: ?Tel ornouotcoão, / Ocoão, tel ornou
Lit. ‘ttel hones the fohn, / he fohn, etel hones
  • 104/span> For urther avidence, wse

23COe of the sey piece of evidence lhat sipport sthis piposal ts the pacts hat,cnsersion itriggr so slubte clan,g in Eentence -ocus,contexts, Nn aacts in nerba-ubjects ordr soike [23a]chegouotccccccccccccoão,/em> ws inferpreted as fiohn, verive ere”,. Nn aontrast in nubjects-erb  ordr s,such assdectio Mnterpretetion,is not ala ilbile. Hre ,a location< neu raMnterpretetion,is ntrongly llllllllllllretfesrd b(.e. tem>n(oão, ihegou/em> ws inferpreted as fiohn, verive somewere”,. (sein narticular,Sheehan, 2007; nd 20110<.In thi iikht af this e bvedence a class="footnotecall" id="bodyftn104"href="#ftn104>104/sa> we assume tith aaaaaaaaaaaaPnton(19987)and theehan,(1007; nd 20110< hat, in Eentence -ocus,c intexts, tyrk nversion ws iicense by a dreverbal cnul socative thes,conttituteng a in tante of eonerbtLI.

23TW propose that, LOC ats arso onerbtLTOPsat fhi iiverlof discourse ,suice in define sa location< nd tst,c intext is neadyiy token for the paddess e. In ther pwords,it is mresupposed. ha in [235] In sonrt,ietpendng an the hontext o pwere at is meberddd, tLOC an bfuceion oeiher asso onerbto pdectio LTOPsao asso onerbtoanahonro LTOPs

[235]/td> A: JJJJJJJJJJJJEes tnd va m bringcr,Snonartue lsMeasolv ra met rarda cias azynd,onada
Lit. ‘tthy phre Ehe pogrkbnd diecied ihow hnten the zynd,one eouseL: ?E oque a ontexceu?br />Lit. ‘tnd cwtd> edppene A: Aarene uum efnteasma. [TOPs =–tdferewards tn Ehe pzynd,one eouse<]br />Lit. ‘tnpear e t aghost
23ELke wP, wrench,(as a sype of (ark insersion ,htadieionally talled Aiabsolut nversion (L.g., BL [Biois 19952; Gurnaly 20076) where the pocation. f the bvenit/ation 2dscoribdin the entence is uiplecity(Lamousse FFFFFFFFFFFF0023 2007 and 2011)<.In erestingly, this type of (yrk nversion w insanly nmited bith a dgouvpof (erb which cot s ncros the hunacus,tive /uer gtive istanceion ond rugh y tarrespondisto the geouvpof (in ersion serb ,which clloweonerbtLI.en EP, Theus ahis e bnpear to be ndther puanifstavion. f tonerbtLI.

[236 DUnacus,tive derb /em> /td> <

[137 DUnr gtive erb /em> /td>
  • 105/span>T Psisbley ahis e bype of LI.enly ccurs in tnnritive tquences lecause the heapa href="#ftn105>(...)
  • 916/span>T As Haegmandand cGuéron(19989: 63)point tut ,“the starregranmmar pf a lintguage[…]. 24ICrucilly ,wheydype of (onerbtLI.enmited bn nrench,(diffr soronmthet onfEP,an thw days . Frst pnlike EP, w nrench,(npear to bnmitahis en ersion snly n t(ral sr whrtedn nonritive tquences a class="footnotecall" id="bodyftn105"href="#ftn105>(05/sa> weich csuggesm> i is not artiof (it,c inregranmmara class="footnotecall" id="bodyftn106"href="#ftn106>(16/s>. GGGGGGGGGGGGSeopne French anlowstonerbtLI.exclusively in liscourse fontexts,iiiiiiiiiiiihere the ppatio-temporal socation.of the prstverbal pubjects s e benenerbble cronmthe poene dng aontexts. Pt diffr etly, ihis type oooooooooooof (itersion ws iusti nmited bith aonerbtoanahonro LTOPs t(xamples[238]). AsBahousse(10073 2007 and 2011) had then to be snferpreted as feaning.ithe , pnferewardsa(n the eam tlaced”,

[23a] AEle vsonnn. Aerive uerinfoirmère :itAh! Mai tmadae, pe i’tstaaps f’aheres,
[23b] A(em>Cotexts: opning nentence if a lexts/em> n*Aerive uerinfoirmère :[…]. /td>
[23b] A: JQutstace queis’istaaps sé B: ?*Etaarerivé lllllllllllluerinfoirmère

341/span>Taken together, the ecros -lng ustancdata bbbbbbbbbbbbresented bnbve tonclernng aheMype of (reverbal XPs wfoun in LI sssssssssssssuggesm hat this oype of (word ordr ws iicense by a(c)nerbto ponstituents which crk resupposed tnd dieine a lpatio-temporal ssssssssssssocation.,iusti nsLTOPs lanracerestanclly tdo

34Iignificantly, ihe ppatio-temporal XPs wiich ddddddddddddo daotstpecifya location< nre ueble co thriggr insersion in Ehe e tintguages This is bhe pcrs of the fnitieladerba ttsomewere”,t(xamples[239])and tf a derb wf diurtion.,iikeppppppppppppthmporalrily,t(xamples[240]). Oly n EP,ao dw hirdE(pparents nxcletions, o this rule. AsBshownin [240], rEP prmints nversion w iith afonteda derb wikepthmporalrily, BCotrary to what might aaaaaaaaaaaappear at irst sight, theisnerba-ubjects ordr is not icense by aaaaaaaaaaaahe ffrnteda derb . Raher, ti is n in tante of eyrk nversion w ind ticense by ather puelan,isms,which crk ueba ilbilein English,w ind trench This is bhy ate structuresin [240]is n mited bn EP,appppppppppp et tcrucilly not n the ther pintguages– tithout ny pnerbto preverbal XP i(xamples[241]<.In thi iikht af thise facts ,it ian bbbbbbbbbbbbb toncludeddthat the Xword ordr wslustrated by xamples [139]w ind [240]ionstitutes a kseopnesiece of evpirical dvidence,in favor oooooooooooof the preposal that a creverbal XP iust define a location

[13a] ??Algre swaarene uutccccccccccccoão, /td>
[23b] ??Qelaues artioesm ppareuJean- /td>

[14a] Tmporalriamste ddddddddddddoarresra malgrak ehalucinaçõs
[24b] *Tmporaliremnt me tenteorepduits guelauestehallucinaions,

[141] Oarresra malgrak eeeeeeeeeeeehalucinaçõs
[241] *Setenteorepduits gggggggggggguelauestehallucinaions,
[241] *Ocursrd bsome
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1 For reasons of space, in this article, we do not provide glosses for sentences in EP whenever the sentences presented immediately after are appropriate French and English translations. This is why sentence [1a] is not glossed.

2 A number of grammatical phenomena have been shown to be sensitive to the stage-level/individual-level distinction (cf. Kratzer, 1989). For instance, it has been shown that only stage-level predicates can appear within small clause complements of perception verbs:
[i1] I saw Peter drunk / I saw Peter kiss Jen.
[i2] ??I saw Peter intelligent / ??I saw Peter hate Mary.

3 In line with previous work by Birner and Ward (Birner & Ward, 1998; Ward et al., 2002), we assume that the information which is linked to prior discourse through such inferential relations as part/whole, type/subtype and possession, for example, is discourse-old. Consider the following example from Ward et al. (2002: 1368):
[ii] I tried to get into the library after hours, but the door was locked.
In [ii], there is a part-whole relationship between the door and the library. Consequently, it can be inferred that “the door” refers to the door of the library. Since the latter is mentioned in prior discourse, in [ii], “the door” has the status of discourse-old information. In brief, as argued by Ward et al. (2002), the elements that stand in some salient and relevant relationship to elements that have been mentioned in prior discourse should be considered discourse-old, rather than new.

4 It should be noted that topics are typically discourse-old due to independent reasons related to discourse cohesion (see Reinhart, 1981).

5 Underlying this claim is the assumption that, in a question-answer pair, the constituent under assertion in the answer replaces the wh-word in the question. Conversely, the constituents that do not replace the wh-word are part of the presupposition (see, e.g., Zubizarreta, 1998).

6 “Lit.” stands for “literal translation”.

7 Note that, in English, French and EP, when the information presented by the pre- and postverbal constituents has been previously mentioned in the discourse, it is the constituent that has been evoked most recently (i.e., closer to the LI structure) that typically appears in preverbal position.

8 Discourse-oldness is a gradient notion. As noted by Birner (1998: 309), “more recently evoked information is treated as more familiar in the discourse than less recently evoked information”.

9 For reasons of space, these tests are just presented in English. However, the same results are obtained for EP and French.

10 For reasons of space, these tests are just presented in English. However, the same results are found in EP and French.

11 Note that, in participial phrases with a locative PP, omitting the PP reduces the acceptability of inversion, while omitting the participle preserves it. This fact indicates that what licenses inversion in these cases is not the participial phrase itself, but rather the embedded locative. Compare the examples in [32] with the following:
[iii1] ??Coiled lay a one-hundred-and-fifty-foot length of braided nylon climbing rope […]. / On the floor lay a one-hundred-and-fifty-foot length of braided nylon climbing rope […].
[iii2] ??Assis se trouvait un mineur […]. / Sur la banquette arrière se trouvait un mineur […].
[iii3] ??Eram 05h00 de quinta-feira e sentados estavam três irmãos […]. / Eram 05h00 de quinta-feira e no chão estavam três irmãos […].
Lit. ‘Were 05h00 of Thursday and sitting were three brothers / Were 05h00 of Thursday and on the floor were three brothers’

12 English admits bare inversion in the context of stage directions, as illustrated in [iv]. Even though it could be hypothesized that this verb-subject order is licensed by a covert stage topic interpreted as “on the stage”, we do not consider this structure an instance of covert LI for two main reasons. First, there is no agreement between the subject and the verb in this inversion structure, which indicates that it is derived in a substantially different way from LI. Second, this type of inversion occurs almost exclusively with the unaccusative verb enter in the present simple, and thus appears to function more as a ready-made formula for introducing characters on the scene than as a true inversion structure with finite rules that speakers can creatively apply to generate an infinite range of sentences.
[iv] Enter Helena.
(J. Osborne, Look Back in Anger, London, Faber and Faber, 1960, p. 71)

13 According to this principle, the canonical subject position (i.e., the specifier of the inflectional phrase – Spec, IP) must be filled in every sentence.

14 For further evidence, see Pinto (1997) and Sheehan (2007, 2010).

15 Possibly, this type of LI only occurs in narrative sequences because the hearer/reader expects them to present a succession of events in a linear chronological order. Consequently, the notion of chronological order may be assumed to be situationally evoked (Prince, 1981) here, which makes the insertion of an adverb like ensuite (“afterwards”) redundant.

16 As Haegeman and Guéron (1999: 63) point out, “the ‘core grammar’ of a language […] governs the unmarked registers or styles, and ‘peripheral grammars’ […] govern special registers or styles”.

17 Note that the term “inversion” is used throughout this article to refer to inversion without a contrastive/exhaustive meaning associated. The inversion structures where the postverbal subject is interpreted as contrastive/identificational focus are not relevant to the present study.

18 As an anonymous reviewer rightly pointed out, French admits inversion with the manner adverb ainsi (“thus”) and with manner AdvPs such as sans se presser (“without hurry”), as in the examples below:
[v1] Ainsi doivent espérer les condamnés à mort.
(Lahousse, 2011: 106)
[v2] Sans se presser déambulaient trois touristes.
In [v1], ainsi is exhaustively interpreted as meaning “this way rather than any other way”, thus acting as an identificational focus operator. In other words, this is a case of inversion associated with a restrictive meaning (cf. Lahousse, 2011, for further details). In [v2], inversion appears to be licensed by a covert anaphoric sTOP, as it is only acceptable when embedded in a narrative context where the location of the action is recoverable from the preceding context. Compare [vi1] to [vi2]:
[vi1] A: Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé? B: ??Sans se presser déambulaient trois touristes.
[vi2] Il est assis sur un banc en bois pour observer le parc. Sans se presser déambulaient trois touristes. [sTOP = in the park, at that moment]
Thus, it can be concluded that the examples in [v] do not challenge our hypothesis that, in matrix clauses without a contrastive/restrictive meaning or an expletive in preverbal position, subject-verb inversion is only admitted with a (c)overt sTOP.

19 Underlying this proposal is the assumption that the location of an entity E can be defined not only with respect to a loco-temporal stage, but also in relation to comparable or similar entities mentioned or implied in prior discourse.

20 Languages which allow referential and expletive null subjects.

21 Languages which allow expletive, but not referential null subjects.

22 Recall that LOC functions as a (deictic or anaphoric) sTOP in EP covert LI.

23 Note that it is well attested in the literature that certain constraints of non-null subject grammars can be relaxed in special registers (cf. Haegeman, 1990 and 2013; Haegeman & Guéron, 1999).

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Référence électronique

Joana Teixeira, « Locative Inversion and Stage Topics: A Cross-Linguistic Study », Discours [En ligne], 19 | 2016, mis en ligne le 22 décembre 2016, consulté le 17 décembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/discours.9229

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Joana Teixeira

Centro de Linguística da Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas – Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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