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Inter-speaker variation, Optimality theory, and the prosody of clitic left-dislocations in Spanish

  • Ingo Feldhausen EMAIL logo
From the journal Probus


This paper presents an empirical study on the prosody of clitic left-dislocations (CLLDs) in Spanish and offers new perspectives on how the phenomenon of inter-speaker variation in linguistic data can be integrated into formal grammatical theory. Results from a production experiment based on scripted speech show that CLLDs have an obligatory left and right boundary (typically a high edge tone at the intermediate phrase level), while other sentence-internal boundaries are subject to inter-speaker variation. The hypothesis presented here suggests that prosodic boundaries which mark information structural (IS) categories are more necessary than boundaries which satisfy alignment constraints; only the latter can show inter-speaker variation (IS-over-Alignment Hypothesis). A modified version of the Stochastic Optimality Theory (SOT) is proposed to account for the attested inter-speaker variation. By assuming that the degree of constraint overlap can vary between individual speakers while the underlying hierarchy remains invariant, the modified version of SOT is applicable beyond variation in the output structure of a whole population.

Funding statement: This work was supported by the French Investissements d’Avenir – Labex EFL program (ANR-10-LABX-0083).


Two additional sets of sentences from the experiment are presented here. Again, the left-dislocated constituents are in bold type (note that hermano ‘brother’ is a paroxytonic word).

Context II: ¿Qué hacemos con la lámpara que me compré en Mérida?

  1. La lámpara la regalamos a unos vecinos.

  2. La lámpara de Mérida la regalamos a unos vecinos.

  3. Bárbara piensa que la lámpara la regalamos a unos vecinos.

  4. Bárbara piensa que la lámpara de Mérida la regalamos a unos

  5. vecinos.

  6. ‘(Barbara thinks that) the lamp (of Mérida), we offered some neighbors.’

Context III: Ya he buscado el pájaro de mi hermano. ¿Dónde estaba?

  1. El pájaro lo he encontrado en la cocina.

  2. El pájaro de tu hermano lo he encontrado en la cocina.

  3. La vecina dice que el pájaro lo ha encontrado en la cocina.

  4. La vecina dice que el pájaro de tu hermano lo ha encontrado en la

  5. cocina.

  6. ‘(The neighbor says that) the bird (of your brother), she found in the kitchen.’


I would like to thank Elisabeth Delais-Roussarie, Gorka Elordieta, Shinichiro Ishihara, Luis López, Esther Rinke, Maria del Mar Vanrell, Marina Vigário, and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful observations and comments. I also would like to thank Izarbe García Sánchez for helping me finding the speakers, to whom I am also grateful. My gratitude also goes to my student assistant Alina Lausecker for help of different kinds and to Audrey MacDougall for her assistance with editing. Very special thanks to Andreas Heuer for help with the statistics and to Andrea Pešková for help with the data. All errors are my own.


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Published Online: 2016-8-24
Published in Print: 2016-9-1

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