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Heavy constituent in front frield and pre-front field

In the beginning of Danish spoken utterances, one will often find two constituents which seemingly play the same part in the sentence. The first one can consist of one or more words and potentially be a complete sub-clause, while the next one consists of a single pronoun or adverb. The first constituent is called the heavy constituent whereas the other is called the copy.

In the example below, the heavy constituent is min telefon ‘my phone’ and the copy is den ‘it’, both of which could represent the subject of the sentence on their own, and both of which refer to the same referent, namely Bolette’s phone.

Samtalebanken | Telefon | Bilen | 12 ((phone))

01   BO:    jam:: min telefon den slukkede      hhh heh °heh°
            PRT   my  phone   it  turn.off.PST ((laughing))
            'but my phone turned off'

In a sentence schema analysis, den will be in the front field, whereas min telefon will constitute the pre-front field (the position to the left of the front field).











min telefon








Of course, an equivalent construction exists without a copy, where the heavy constituent on its own is in the front field (e.g. in: jam:: min telefon slukkede, ‘but my phone turned off’). It seems, though, that the construction without the copy only can be used in specific cases. When the heavy constituent is a name, the construction without a copy is used in contexts where the referent is explicitly mentioned in the previous conversation or in another way known and relevant in the context for both parties. It must be examined further if specific circumstances can favour the use of the construction without a copy for other types of heavy constituents than persons’ names.

The construction with a copy can therefore be seen as the standard way of phrasing these types of utterances while the construction without copy only can be applied under specific circumstances.

Sources and further reading

Brøcker et al. (2012). In this article, a description is included of the distribution of heavy constituents in front field and extra position in Danish. It is also explained what determines this choice of placement when the heavy constituent is a person’s name.

Christen and Christensen (2005) contains an introduction to the sentence diagram.

Relevant entries

Forms > Sentences > Sentence diagrams

Functions > Actions > Other actions > Reporting