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Cleft sentences

In Tamil, as in other languages, there exists a kind of sentence called the `cleft sentence'.The distinction some linguists make between cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences does not seem to be salient in Tamil. They differ slightly in form and meaning from ordinary declarative sentences in that the `focus' or `emphasis' is on a special part of the sentence not ordinarily emphasized. Their form is different in that the subject of the sentence does not seem to agree with the verb, whereas actually the subject of the verb is sentential or clausal, so the verb is marked for neuter PNG. The difference (in English cleft sentences) is illustrated by the following:

In English, the cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences have `it', `what' or other WH-interrogatives as part of the surface output, while the non- cleft sentences have `he' or `Raman' as the subjects. In English as in Tamil, the subject of the cleft sentence seems to be a whole clause or phrase, i.e., the subject of `what Raman is doing is going to the market' is `what Raman is doing'.

In Tamil, the cleft sentences differ from the non-cleft in that the verb is conspicuously marked only for neuter PNG ; this can also be analyzed as an occurrence of the verbal noun in predicate position:

In Tamil the illocutionary force of the cleft sentence, especially in questions, is often similar to that of modals, i.e., `supposed to' instead of `will', as in the last example above. That is, pragmatically, cleft constructions are used instead of modal constructions when asking about who needs to do what, etc. Otherwise, the cleft sentence is used to focus on or emphasize a particular element not otherwise emphasized.