Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session




The it-cleft construction (e.g. "It was Bill that I saw") is generally accepted to be a marked syntactic bi-clausal option which expresses a simple semantic proposition; in terms of information structure, the construction places an element in focus position, within a copular matrix clause. This element receives an exhaustive interpretation; that is, in the case of (1), it is Bill, and only Bill, that was seen. These clefts lack a straightforward mapping between their syntactic, semantic and pragmatic structures and as a result are a prime construction to illustrate the advantages of Role and Reference Grammar which is able to bring these aspects together in a coherent analysis.

This paper begins with a brief overview of the literature on it-clefts. Following this, an approach to the study of it-clefts in English from a Role and Reference Grammar theory perspective (following Van Valin and LaPolla 1997, 2003) is presented and several key issues highlighted. The analysis also draws from work by Lambrecht (2001) and Davidse (2000). It is demonstrated that a comprehensive account of it-cleft constructions needs to take into account both the way that clefts exploit the copular verb and their relationship to their non-cleft counterpart sentences.

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