I was discussing the semantics difference when switching prepositional objects in the following sentences with a German native:

, damit die Eltern auf ihre Kinder über CCTV aufpassen können,

damit die Eltern über CCTV auf ihre Kinder aufpassen können

By swap of the prepositional phrases "ueber CCTV" and "auf ihre Kinder" from first to second, we have a change in meaning from "CCTV established, now we can watch children" to "we can watch children, and now do it with CCTV".

I found this quite interesting how "what is established" changes as we switch phrases. Is there a general theory for how this works in a general language?/ Are there categorizations of languages based on how semantics change when switching prepositional objects?

1 Answer 1


For the larger picture: Yes there are categorisations of languages based on information structure.

The most traditional terminology would call the two roles theme and rheme, more modern terminology uses topic and comment, focus and background, and given—new.

In linguistic typology, one classifies some languages as topic prominent languages where the syntactical marking of topic and focus is emphasised.

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