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Actual division of the sentence

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Functional Sentence Perspective, or Actual Division of the Sentence

Alongside the nominative or syntactic division of the sentence, the idea of so-called “actual division” of the sentence has been put forward in theoretical linguistics. The purpose of the actual division of the sentence (J. Vachek, O. dahl, M. Bloch), called also “functional sentence perspective” (V. Mathesius, F. Danes), is to reveal the correlative significance of the sentence parts from the point of view of their actual informative role in an utterance, of the immediate semantic contribution to the total information conveyed by the sentence.

The main components of the actual division of the sentence are the theme and the rheme. “theme” comes from the Greek root [the-] “to set” or “to establish”, and means “that which is set or established”, it denotes an object or a phenomenon about which something is reported. “Rheme” is derived from root [rhe-] “to say” or “to tell”, and means “that which is told or said”. The rheme expresses the basic informative part of the communication, its contextually relevant centre. The transitional parts situated between the theme and the rheme are called “transition”.

The theme of the actual division of the sentence may or may not coincide with the predicate of the sentence.

In the following sentences the theme is expressed by the subject, while the rheme is expressed by the predicate.

Her advice can’t be of any help to us.

Mary is fond of poetry.

This kind of actual division is “direct” (the functional model T---R).

But if we change a context around the latter sentence then subject will turn into the rheme, while the predicate, accordingly, into the theme.

“Isn’t it surprising that Tim is so fond of poetry?” – “But you are wrong. Mary is fond of poetry, not Tim”.

The actual division in which the rheme is expressed by the subject is called “inverted” (the functional model R---T).

Among the formal means of expressing the distinction between the theme and rheme investigators name such structural elements of language as word-order patterns, intonation, constructions with introducers, syntactic patterns of contrastive complexes, constructions with articles and other determiners, constructions with intensifying particles.

Means of making the theme:

  •  Syntactic means: His face | I am fond of, but his character | I despise.
  •  Morphosyntactic means: The delegation was met by a group of students.
  •  Lexicogrammatical means: The child ran into the road. He | was hit by a car. // John came early, and so did | Fred.
  •  Lexical means: (His name is Bill). Bill | is a student.

Means of making the rheme:

  •  Phonological means (logical or rhematic accent): Mary is fond of music (as an answer to the question “Who is fond of music?”); Mary | is fond of music (as a contradiction to “Mary hates music”, etc).
  •  Lexical means: Even a child | could do this. Only George | could make a mistake like that. Almost all | liked her.
  •  Morphosyntactic means (indefinite article and possessive constructions): The door opened | and an old man (R) | came into the room (T).
  •  Syntactic means: contrastive complexes: The dress | is meant for your sister, not for you!

Cleft sentences (расщепленные вопросы): It was Charles who went to Paris.

Sentences with emphatic do and other auxiliaries: (I thought John worked hard). He did work hard.

One-member sentences: Your name is? – Marvin. How is she? – Sleeping.

Inversion of the subject and predicate: Here comes (T) the bus (R). “Go away!” said (T) the child (R).

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Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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