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Auteur: Naoko TOMITA

Representation of a change-of-polarity - A contrastive study of German and Japanese on the language-specificity in information organization

Abstract/Résumé: Dik (1997) distinguishes between two levels for polarity distinctions: Predication and proposition. The polarity at the former level concerns the statement of the actuality or non-actuality of some State-of-Affairs, whereas the polarity at the latter level is related to the acts of denying or confirming a proposition. Both in German and Japanese, specific words for denying a proposition are available: the particle doch (e.g.. Hast du keinen Appetit? ‘Do you have no appetite?’ – Doch, ich habe Appetit ‘I do have appetite’), and the particle iie ‘no’. The availability of these operators suggests that speakers of both languages are aware of the polarity at the propositional level, when speaking. The present contrastive study of German and Japanese addresses the cognitive representation of a ‘change-of-polarity’ in language reception and production. I speak about change-of-polarity “when speakers highlight propositional positive polarity in contrast to a comparable antecedent statement with negative value” (Dimroth et al. 2010:3331). The aims of the study are (a) to examine whether there are language-specific preferences in its conceptualization, and if so, (b) to describe those preferences. Two types of data – judgment data on a four-point scale (15 informants per language), and film retellings (20 participants per language) – were analysed with respect to which conceptual domain (TIME, SPACE and ENTITY) provides the preferred ‘basis’ for a change-of-polarity. For example, in a sentence pair like “At the first occasion, John did not jump. At the second occasion, however, he jumped”, the change-of-polarity is based on the shift-in-TIME (“at the first occasion” to “at the second occasion”), maintaining the topic entity. In a sentence pair such as “Peter did not jump. John however jumped” in contrast, the shift-in-ENTITY (“Peter” to “John”) functions as basis. Focus of the analysis was placed on the usage of the German particle doch and the Japanese so-called topic particle -wa, both of which can be used for contexts in which the polarity is changed. Results: Both data sets show similar differences between the two speaker groups: The German speakers prefer the shift-in-TIME as the basis for a change/non-change of the polarity, and the Japanese speakers the shift-in-ENTITY. I propose that more empirical work on the topic with a method as was used in the study would provide more insight into the language-cognition interface. References: Dik, S. C. (1997). The Theory of Functional Grammar. Part 2. Berlin: de Gruyter. Dimroth, C. et al (2010). Given claims about new topics. In: Journal of Pragmatics 42, 3328-3344.