Information Status of Cleft Focus

In our analysis of the development of the information status of the cleft we first turn to the intergenerational level. Between each generation, there is a slight but significant rise in given foci at the cost of canonical new foci. We measured the direction, strength and significance of generational trends by means of Kendall’s tau rank correlation coefficient3 (see, e.g., Agresti 2010: 196), which yields a rise in focus givenness at an effect size (tau-b value) of 0.06 (p < 0.001), both between generations 1 and 2, and (with the same values) between generations 2 and 3. Through the entire scope of the period of study (first to third generation), this results in a fair shift toward more given foci (effect size: 0.13, p < 0.001). This is a fundamental and highly significant shift in the information structural formula away from the conventional, canonical use (illustrated in (4a)), and a first indication that the rhetorical value of the construction is renegotiated. Uses that are more likely to have given foci include, for instance, rhetorical uses such as emphasis or contrastiveness. Both functions are illustrated in (4b). The themselves in this example corroborates the emphatic function, and there is also an implicit contrast with the preceding statement, from which a reader might have inferred that it was someone else instead.

(4) Cleft focus status examples

a “it was not the eye ["'new8'] that beheld the brazen Serpent ["'new"'] in the Wilderness that healed those that were stung...” (Keach, generation 3, 1698)

b “it was they themselves ["'given*] that broke our hearts ["'accessible*]” (Baxter, generation 1, 1672)

A Kendall tau correlation test between early and late career halves shows that, in the third generation, two authors change their distribution of new and given cleft foci significantly. Benjamin Keach (4a) and

Change across the lifespan in /Г-cleft focus status

Figure 6.1 Change across the lifespan in /Г-cleft focus status: Keach and Crouch.

Nathaniel Crouch both display a significant increase of new foci (see Figure 6.1); effect size of Keach: -0.17, p < 0.001; effect size of Crouch: -0.25, p = 0.04). This shift seems to be the opposite of the generational change, a phenomenon termed “retrograde change” by Sankoff and Wagner (2006). We will return to what this seemingly reactionary behaviour may mean in Section 6.4.

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