Thetic vs. categorical

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The term pair thetic vs. categorical is used in information structure studies for topicless, all-new sentences and sentences with a topic.

Examples

Most sentences are categorical, so the literature mostly discusses thetic sentences, e.g.

  • (What's wrong with you?) My boyfriend left me.
  • (Why aren't you playing outside?) It's raining.

Origin

The term pair was made popular in linguistics by Kuroda 1972 and Sasse 1987. Kuroda adopted it from the philosopher Brentano.

  • This theory assumes, unlike either traditional or modern logic, that there are two different fundamental types of judgments, the categorical and the thetic. Of these, only the former conforms to the traditional paradigm of subject-predicate, while the latter represents simply the recognition or rejection of material of a judgment. Moreover, the categorical judgment is assumed to consist of two separate acts, one the act of recognition of that which is to be made the subject, and the other, the act of affirming or denying what is expressed by the predicate about the subject. With this analysis in mind, the thetic and the categorical judgments are also called the simple and the double judgments (Einfaches Urteil and Doppelurteil). (Kuroda 1972:154)

References

  • Brentano, Franz. 1874/1924. Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. (English translation: Brentano, Franz. 1973. Psychology from an empirical point of view. Translated by Antos C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, and Linda L. McAlister)
  • Haberland, Hartmut 2006. Thetic-categorial distinction. in: Keith Brown (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd edition. 12:676-677.
  • Kuroda, Sige-Yuki 1972. The categorical and the thetic judgment. Foundations of Language 9:153-185.
  • Sasse, Hans-Jürgen. 1987. The thetic/categorical distinction revisited. Linguistics 25:511-580.
  • Ladusaw William. 1994. Thetic and Categorical, Stage and Individual, Weak and Strong. in: Mandy Harvey and Lynn Santelmann (eds.), Proceedings from Semantics and Linguistic Theory IV Ithaca, Cornell University Press, pp. 220-229

Other languages

German thetisch vs. kategorisch