Discourse or grammar? VS patterns in spoken Hebrew and spoken German narratives

Peter Auer, Yael Maschler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The realm of this study is the tension between syntax and pragmatics. We explore two structurally very different languages, unrelated genetically - Hebrew and German - which both employ the same marked syntactic pattern of VS word order for similar pragmatic functions in spoken narrative discourse. The question is whether there is some universal functional motivation which can be held responsible for this convergence. The results provide some evidence that, once analyzed in their 'natural habitat' of interactional exchanges, languages are more similar than they are in their written, highly monitored form, and that the reason for this may be found in universal discourse motivations. However, the study supports a cautious view: what seems to look like an obvious, functionally-motivated parallel between the syntax of two languages turns out to be much harder to evaluate once the whole spectrum of usages is taken into consideration. We show that there are at least three different discourse motivations for the VS word order, and that the ways these motivations interact among each other differ between Hebrew and German, resulting in different overall patterns in each of the two languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-181
Number of pages35
JournalLanguage Sciences
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Discourse motivations
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Narratives
  • Spoken syntax
  • Verb-subject order

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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