058 Functional sentence perspective

A brief summary of conclusions and insights from several works on functional sentence perspective (FSP):

Word order in Czech is usually decided by the interplay of these FSP factors: primarily linear modification, followed by context and then semantic structure.

In English the governing factor is primarily context, followed by semantic structure and then linear modification.

There is a striking difference between the proportion of individual FSP factors observed in Czech on the one hand and in English on the other. While in Czech the governing principle of FSP is linear modification (word order), in English the main load of FSP is carried — due to the relatively fixed word order — by context and the grammatical requirements of English syntax.

A dynamic translation takes this difference into consideration, thus producing a natural looking Czech or English text.

Consider the English and Czech versions of the sentences below; they convey the same message, though they treat it — in terms of word order — differently (the most dynamic elements are underlined)

A passer-by told me about that.

Ŕekl mi o tom nějaký kolemjdoucí.

There was an old picture on the wall.

Na zdi visel nějaký starý obraz.

It was in that restaurant that he announced this.

On to oznámil právě v té restauraci.

What I hate is making such excuses.

Takové vymlouvání skutečně nesnáším.

A Handbook of FSP — Martin Adam


English articles are found to be an important means of marking out FSP components, compensating for the above-mentioned rigidity in the linear arrangement of the English sentence. The indefinite article is often capable of marking a segment as RHEME regardless of its position in the sentence. Similarly, the definite article interrelates closely with THEME. It is an important means of referring to GIVEN elements and its employment in this way has far-reaching consequences both of a syntactic and a semantic nature.

THEMATIC MEANING AND TRANSLATION                                                                                             (Functional Sentence Perspective and its Relevance for Contrastive Language Study)Josef Fronek 


Without the help of FSP, a translator can often be oblivious of [these] five factors, and would in any event only account for them intuitively, rather than as a stage in his or her professional training: these are the factors of (a) emphasis, (b) the sequential progression of the text, (c) cohesion, which links the given (the theme, the topic) with the new (the rheme, the comment), (d) sound effect and (e) the relationship between spoken and written language;

As though in silent reading, the spoken language continuously lurks behind the written languageready to clarify any ‘potentiality’ [i.e. semantic ambiguity], where more than one interpretation of the meaning of a sentence is possible.

FSP becomes particularly important and useful in the analysis and evaluation of serious imaginative literature, where the written language is always potentially both spoken and ‘live’ in the sense of contemporary, whatever the date of its composition.

“[A] false stress or an incorrect sequence, which are both the special domain of FSP, will normally distort the meaning of a translation.”

FSP makes a fundamental distinction between the context-dependent and the context-independent elements of a sentence.

Here it is to the credit of the FSP scholars, and to the benefit of translators, to have shown that words may be context-dependent or context-independent or may have a degree of context-(in)dependence, […] and revert to their basic meaning when they appear out of context, as in: Translate into French: I bet. — Je parie. But: I bet she’ll turn up. — Il est à peu près certain qu’elle arrivera (She’ll almost certainly turn up). Some would here regard Je parie or even more Ich wette (G) as too literal, since they are unlikely to be as frequently used so colloquially as ‘I bet’.

With the help of FSP, the translator is compelled to regard both the original and his version as a spoken as well as a written text.

Language and Function (ed. Josef Hladký)                                                                                   Functional sentence perspective and translation                                                                                     Peter Newmark


Recent research into sentence stress in English has shown that the intonation centre, signalling the rheme proper, often falls on a non-final sentence element.

A written English clause with an ambiguous FSP structure (which is in speech disambiguated by the position of the intonation centre) can be disambiguated by word order in Czech.

Whereas in a Czech scientific text the rheme prevalently occurs in final position […]. an English scientific text shows the rheme in two more positions: preverbal and what may be called verbal.

About 50% of the clauses have the rheme at the end.

The position of the rheme in English and Czech sentences as consituents of a text          Studies in the English language                                                                                                              Libuše Dušková

(Scientific texts were chosen for this study, as they tend to avoid emotive and expressive word order).


Cases where the linear distribution of clause constituents overrides the clues provided by the other factors and becomes the principal FSP indicator are rare and have to be sought among sentence structures deviating from the canonical grammatical word order.

The search for sentences in which word order [= linear modification] alone can be relied on to override all other FSP factors as a theme/rheme indicator has proved to be difficult: they are extremely rare and rather elusive,

The strength of the weak factor is therefore limited; linearity only overrides the other FSP factors in a narrow range of syntactic constructions, which tend to be rare.

[L]inearity can override the other two non-prosodic factors (context and semantics), but it is difficult to imagine it overriding prosody [i.e. intonation, tone, stress etc].

Linearity in functional sentence perspective: the strength of the weak factor             Vladislav Smolka


Some examples from:

Syntax to Text — The Janus Face of Functional Sentence Perspective by Libuše Dušková

At dawn she was awakened by the sound of rain                                                                                           Za svítání ji probudil déšť

Her mouth opened to emit a sound                                                                                                                       Z pootevřených úst jí unikl zvuk

Bernie hadn’t after all owned the little house                                                                                        Domek Berniemu vlastně nepatřil

Gone were the terracotta roofs of the farmhouses they had known, the stone sinks, the primitive wood-burning stoves                                                                                                                    Terakotové střechy jejich bývalých venkovských domů, kamenné výlevky primitivní plotny, kde se topilo dřevem, upadly v zapomění

Morals were pretty strict in those days                                                                                                         Tehdy panovala přísná morálka

The pale lamplight fell on his face and chest                                                                                                      Na jeho čelo a hruď dopadlo bledě světlo lampy

…the minute I see something white in the letter box                                                                               …když se ve schránce něco bělá                                   

She gave the chair a gentle turn                                                                                                                                A mírně pootočila křeslo

He gave me an irritated look                                                                                                                                        Pohlédl na mne dotčeně

To the right of the path a mixture of grass and                                                                                            Napravo od ní se svažoval k hladině

weeds sloped down to the level of the water                                                                                                  břeh zarostlý travou a plevelem

…and dreadful heresies drifted across the poor fellow’s brain                                                                   a jeho mozek počaly pokoušet kacířské myšlenky

A single metaphor can give birth to love                                                                                                            Láska se může narodit z jedné metafory

Examples from Dušková:

With her right hand she pulled his head down and gave him a real kiss                                                  Pravou rukou si přitahla jeho hlavu a polibila ho jaksepatří.

Jaynes cursed and gave his desk a hard kick.                                                                                                Jaynes zaklel a tvrdě nakopl pracovní stůl.

He gave the untidy kitchen a scornful glance.                                                                                            Pohrdavě se rozhlédl po zaneřaděné kuchyňce.

He gave his wife a stern look.                                                                                                                          Přísně se podíval na ženu.

Relevant quotes:

“Owing to the grammatical function of English word order, the English subject mostly occurs in initial position, which is as a rule the position of the theme. In Czech, on the other hand, the initial thematic position is often occupied by other clause elements, adverbials being nearly as frequent as the subject, while the subject fairly often assumes the function of the rheme, and stands at the end.“ But there are many exceptions:

English differs from Czech in being so little susceptible to the requirements of FSP as to frequently disregard them altogether.’ – Vilém Mathesius

‚The most common strategy by far seems to be to abandon the thematic organization of the source text in favour of adhering to whatever word-order principles may be operating in the target language. In other words, most translators prefer to give priority to the syntactic principles of the target language rather than to the communicative structure of the source text. – Mona Baker‘ (In Other Words p. 171)

(FSP = aktuální členění větné )

See also 017 Word-order problems

Napsat komentář

Vaše emailová adresa nebude zveřejněna. Vyžadované informace jsou označeny *

Můžete používat následující HTML značky a atributy: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>