A Contrastive Study of Cleft Sentences in English and Turkish

A contrastive study of cleft sentences in English and Turkish discouırse
Ümit Deniz Turan
Anadolu University
This paper presents a contrastive study of cleft sentences in English and Turkish.
Both languages allow complex cleft sentences as in (1a) and (1b) below as alternatives to
corresponding simple sentences in (2a) and (2b), respectively:
1. a. Can’ın yaptığı bütün gün çalışmak
b. What John does is to work all day.
2. a. Can bütün gün çalışıyor.
b. John works all day.
In both languages, cleft sentences consist of:
 a headless relative clause or a relative clause with a non-referential head,
 a copular verb (may be zero copula in the case of Turkish)
 a predicate which is necessarily co-indexed (i.e. identical) with the relative clause.
 a non-cleft counterpart in the form of a simple clause. [The examples in (2) are the
canonical counterparts of the cleft sentences in (1)].
English has both it-clefts and wh-clefts. Since Prince (1978), it has been accepted that itclefts are of two types: Stressed-focus it-clefts and informative-presupposition it-clefts. In stressedfocus it-clefts the clefted element represents new information. In informative presupposition itclefts the relative clause contains the message but marked as a known fact.
Kornfilt (1997: 192-3) suggests that because Turkish does not have pleonastic pronouns like
other null subject languages, it has no genuine cleft constructions that begin with an it-like element.
She suggests that Turkish only allows pseudo-cleft constructions which are formed by a headless
relative clause and a copula.
Nevertheless, we shall compare and contrast how the functions of it-clefts are expressed in
Turkish, a language which heavily relies on its scrambling property to express information structure
in discourse. We shall also discuss in what ways Wh-clefts in English and pseudo-clefts in Turkish
are similar or different.
The data used in this study come from translated texts (such as the novel entitled Üç Beş Kişi
by Adalet Ağaoğlu and its English translation Curfew by John Goulden) and the METU-corpus.
The following research questions are addressed in the study:
1. Are cleft sentences translated as clefts from Turkish into English or vice versa? Are clefts
used similarly in parallel texts in both languages?
2. Are the discourse functions of Turkish clefts similar to those in English? Or if they are
different, how do they differ?
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Kornfilt, Jaklin. 1997. Turkish. London & New York: Routledge.
Prince, Ellen. 1978. A comparison of wh-clefts and it-clefts in discourse. Language 54: 883-906.
Turan, Ümit D. 1997. Metin işaret adılları: Bu, şu ve metin yapısı (Discourse Deictic pronouns this,
that, and the structure of discourse). XI. Dilbilim Kurultayı Bildiriler (The Proceedings of the
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