Differential Object Marking and discourse prominence in Spanish



Spanish, like many other Romance and non-Romance languages, shows Differential Object Marking (DOM), i.e., some direct objects are morphologically marked by the prepositional marker a ‘to’, while others remain unmarked. The literature has proposed different sentential parameters in order to capture this variation (Fábregas 2013, among others), including topicality (see Leonetti 2004, Iemmolo 2010, among others). In addition, Laca (1995: 82f.) has argued that DOM also depends on discourse properties. She assumes that in Spanish the use of DOM with an indefinite direct object signals that more information about this object referent is to be expected in the upcoming discourse (see also Comrie 1981/1989). First empirical evidence for this hypothesis comes from DOM in Romanian (Chiriacescu & von Heusinger 2010). In this paper we explore the hypothesis that, in Spanish, human indefinite direct objects with DOM show more forward-looking potential than those without DOM. We present original results from two corpus studies and two paragraph continuation tasks. The corpus studies provide support for the discourse effect of DOM, while the paragraph continuation tasks do not, which might be due to the particular design of our experimental items. We evaluate the different parameters that contribute to the discourse prominence of a direct object with DOM and those that might mask such effects. We conclude that there is evidence that DOM contributes to discourse prominence, but that further studies are necessary.


Differential Object Marking, DOM, Spanish, discourse prominence, corpus analysis, paragraph continuation task


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