Scrambling and Information Focus in Old and Contemporary Portuguese

Ana Maria Martins


This paper proposes that object scrambling both in Old and Contemporary Portuguese is a strategy to create appropriate information focus configurations. Essentially, it makes the rightmost constituent that would otherwise bear the neutral sentence nuclear stress escape it. In narrow information focus structures this amounts to defocusing of the scrambled constituent. In broad information focus sentences the scrambled constituent is prosodically and pragmatically demoted with respect to salience. Thus, leftward displacement of the scrambled constituent either allows another constituent to acquire discourse/informational prominence or creates a ‘flat’ structure in that respect. The informational import of the scrambling strategy is constant throughout the history of Portuguese. But while Old Portuguese allowed both short scrambling (i.e. adjunction to VP) and middle scrambling (i.e. raising to multiple Spec,TP), only short scrambling is a grammatical option in Contemporary European Portuguese. Hence, Old Portuguese scrambling could derive SOV sentences whereas Contemporary European Portuguese scrambling maintains the object in postverbal position. The view that scrambling may induce loss or downgrading of discourse/ informational prominence as it removes constituents from the clause-final position to which such prominence is assigned is supported by cross-linguistic evidence (Taylor & Pintzuk 2010 for Old English, Pinkster 1990 and Devine & Stephens 2006 for Latin).


Object scrambling; information structure; word order; Old Portuguese; European Portuguese

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Copyright (c) 2011 Ana Maria Martins