Understanding and Using Clefting

Understanding and Using Clefting
Understanding why and how to use this amazing discourse device in order to achieve some stylistics effects and making it easier for the receiver to interpret the producer’s thought.

Introduction
Clefting is an English structure that can be confused with relative clauses but neither the former structure nor the latter share the defining properties. Clefting is a syntactic device used for adapting clauses to fit the requirements of communication, in other words, clefting is a structural option used to rearrange the information in a clause to achieve some purposes: emphasis, cohesion, and contextual fit. Analyzing cleft sentences will make it easier to understand this language problem.
For this task the main language sources used are ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, & Finegan, 2007), ‘Advances in Written Text Analysis’ (Coulthard, 1995) and ‘Genre Analysis’ (Swales, 1990). When using the language, written or spoken, it is influenced by a number of factors, like the context, the aim for the communication, the people with whom one is communicating, and the register. All these factors have not been included in the traditional grammar analysis, but the books mentioned above deal with the actual and rhetorical use of grammatical features in different registers.

Clefting: structure, findings and examples
According to ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (Biber et al. 2007: 958-959)
Clefting is […] information that could be given in a single clause is broken up, […] into two clauses, each with its own verb. […] There are two major types of cleft constructions: it-clefts and wh-clefts. Both cleft types […] are used to bring particular elements into additional focus, which may be contrastive.

1 –Clefting
Essential elements Findings across registers Examples
It-clefts
The pronoun it
A form of the verb be
The focused element
A dependent clause (that, who/which, or zero). Common in all registers but frequent in academic level It was Mary who read the book.

It was the book that Mary read.
Wh-clefts
• Ordinary Wh-clefts
A wh- clause
A form of the verb be
The focused element
• Reversed wh-clefts
The focused element
A form of the verb be
A wh- clause
• Demonstrative wh-clefts
A demonstrative pronoun
A form of the verb be
A wh- clause • Most frequent in conversations

• Infrequent in all registers

• Most frequent in conversations and rare in academic level

What I want is to have a happy life.

My family is what I prefer.

This is what I want.

Examples taken from different texts: analysis of structures and reasons for their use
According to cleft corpus findings the following examples were taken from magazines. When analyzing the examples, the conceptual tools to take into consideration, among others, are focus, word order and related syntactic choices because cleft sentences are syntactic devices whose elements are arranged in a particular way to give prominence to a particular part of the sentence.
There is no doubt that discourse plays a fundamental role in the daily expression so it is of the utmost importance to give special attention from syntax and images to many aspects of meaning, such as topics, themes, rhemes, coherence, and presupposition, among many others . Language use and discourse are vital for social practices, they play crucial role in society. Consequently this text analysis deals with the social character of texts
paying a particular attention to the process of meaning-making where there are three elements involved: texts, writers or speakers, and readers or listeners.

Excerpt 1.
Yesenia. 1998. “Curly girl”. Seventeen f ebruary, 128.
When I was growing up, my long, thick, frizzy curls were always an inconvenience for my mother — what she hated most was my hair. Ahh, why couldn't I have been born with my father's straight, or as my mother would say, "good" hair. So, for as long as I can remember, I have lived my life pretending to have straight hair. To be honest, straightening it makes my life easier because my hair is softer and more manageable and I can go days without washing it! But then I started thinking: Life's too short to hate or criticize anything about you! And I don't know about you, but I'm tired of washing my hair only once a week to maintain my straight 'do! What I want is my hair to smell Herbal Essences-fresh every single day! What I want is to be able to wash ... and go! What I want is to give my biceps a rest! And for once in my life, what I want is to give my curls a chance to show me just how beautiful and shiny they can be! It is all these which may me feel better!
To find out more about Yesenia's new "Curly Girly" blog, click "read more"!

This excerpt is from a journal article, which is the genre; it has a predominantly descriptive pattern, which is text typology according to Jean Adam (1992).
The author writes a wh-cleft sentences at the beginning of the excerpt to highlight what Yesenia hated most: her hair (the focused element is a noun phrase).
Theme, the ‘aboutness’ is what the speaker or writer decides to bring to the front (the framework), it is what he or she wants to be understood. As Halliday (Halliday 1985:38) says, the theme is the point of departure of the message. Rheme is the new or unknown information which usually comes at the end.
As regards this excerpt theme and rheme are the following:
Theme Rheme
what she hated most was my hair
What I want is my hair to smell Herbal Essences-fresh every single day!
What I want is to be able to wash ... and go!
What I want is to give my biceps a rest!
what I want is to give my curls a chance to show me just how beautiful
and shiny they can be!
The information flow is evident when some elements refer back to the given or familiar information while others present some new information.
The given information is Yesenia’s long, thick, frizzy curls when she was growing up. The new information about her hair is:
Always an inconvenience for her mother
why couldn't Yesenia has been born with her father's straight hair
a life pretending to have straight hair: softer and more manageable hair
days without washing her hair
Finally a new element is presented, a list of ideas that Yesenia wants or desires . In doing so the author adapts clauses by means of four ordinary wh-cleft sentences and a final it-cleft sentence just to give prominence to particular elements. The focused element in each of the four ordinary wh-cleft sentences is at the end , in agreement with the information principle and the principle of end-weight, thus representing the main communicative point. The focused elements are:
her hair to smell Herbal Essences-fresh every single day (a noun phrase)
to be able to wash ... and go (a to infinitive clause)
to give her biceps a rest (a to infinitive clause)
to give her curls a chance to show her just how beautiful and shiny they can be (a to infinitive clause)

The focused element in the final it-cleft sentence is a pro noun, to express a connection with the preceding part of the text, the previous list about Yesenia´s desires, and also to give contrast with the starting point of the text: what her mother hated most . To give even more emphasis, all these five final sentences have exclamation marks.
The author uses parallel structures, a very effective stylistics effect in creating a high tension climax, in the four wh- clauses combined with the infinitive phrases just to balance his idea. The presence of repeated infinitival complement clauses makes the passage a tight packing of information. Focusing on the meaning, infinitival complement clauses are used to report intentions or desires which are even more emphasized with the exclamation marks.
What I want… to smell Herbal Essences-fresh every single day!
What I want… to be able to wash ... and go!
What I want … to give my biceps a rest!
What I want … to give my curls a chance to show me just how beautiful and shiny they can be!

Excerpt 2.
Ratcliffe, Justin. 1996. “The last expedition”. Speak Up 127, 25.

Speak Up went to the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, London, to talk to the Society´s director, Dr. John Hemming.
Speak Up: What is it that drives men and women like Scott of the Antarctic or Burke and Wills in Australia, Livingstone in Africa and, more recently of course, Alison Hargreaves who climbed Everest – what is it that drives them to accomplish these feats of discovery?
John Hemming: Well, I suppose there are three reasons. One is curiosity, thorough wanting to see what was beyond the next bens. Another, I think rather more with the old explorers, was fame: they got a lot of kudos by these discoveries. The modern scientific teams don’t get much kudos, but they do equally tough and challenging things. And the third is the old sort of chestnut of “Why did I want to climb Everest? Because it’s there”, you know, it’s a challenge. It’s very nice in life to have a physical challenge. It was in an expedition that I did where I found the most satisfying thing in my life.

This excerpt is from a journal interview and it has a predominantly dialogical pattern.
This conversation is carried out in a face-to-face interaction, the journalist and John Hemming, situation in which the reader does not participate, so the starting point of this excerpt is a spatial description, an essential spatial reader orientation.
The interview is opened with a very long heavy question forcing the reader’s mind to slow down. Actually it is an it-cleft sentence; it is used it to give prominence to the unknown reason for those expeditions . The structural harmonies, balance, can be appreciated in the specific use of parallel structures to develop a climactic order of ideas; similar ideas are linked, semantic parallelism:
What is it that drives men and women
like Scott of the Antarctic
or Burke and Wills in Australia,
Livingstone in Africa and,
more recently of course, Alison Hargreaves who climbed Everest –
what is it that drives them to accomplish these feats of discovery?
John Hemming starts his answer with a prototypical discourse marker in conversation: well. Then he introduces a series of reasons by means of existential there. And the information flows through some elements which refer back to the given information, theme, while others state new information, rheme:
Theme rheme
three reasons
one curiosity
Another fame
And the third the old sort of chestnut
John Hemming finishes his answer with an it-cleft sentence; his intention is to give prominence to the last part of the sentence and to give contrast. The expedition , defined by the journalist as a feat of discovery is contrasted with the most satisfying thing in Hemming´s life:

It was in an expedition that I did where I found the most satisfying thing in my life (the focused element is a place adverbial phrase)

Excerpt 3.
Caputo, Amalia. 1996. “ Tom Keller. Magnum’s New York director”. Speak Up 127,
12.
Speak Up: Is there a different photographic approach between European MAGNUM Agencies, Paris and London, and MAGNUM NY?
Tom Keller: Different … you mean different photographic styles among the photographer?
Speak Up: No, the approach of how to, like, in thematic issues?
Tom Keller: Well I think some of the difference ; actually that’s an interesting question. I also want to remind you that we have an office in Tokyo.
Speak Up: Oh, that´s right.
Tom Keller: Cause … we have four main offices- what I can tell you is that currently in France you still have an opportunity to place a photo-story, that is more than one photograph by one photographer. In the United States, magazines may at times produce photo-stories but they are really confections, you know, they are given as a kind of reward to the picture editor, he is given a couple of pages every couple of months to produce a story. Very often the picture-stories in the weeklies in the United States are made up of a number of photographs drawn from different sources and they are related less in style than in subject matter.
This excerpt is from a journal interview and it has a predominantly dialogical pattern.
The excerpt opens with the journalist presenting the theme, the given information, and what he wants about it, the new information. The writer and reader are using more than just the text itself to establish referents; the author expects the readers to share a world with him independent of the text, famous cities; shared worlds outside the text are exophoric references.
Before the actual new information there are utterances containing some prototypical discourse markers or expressions in conversations such as well I think and Oh, that´s right.
Ellipsis, the omission of elements which the speakers assume that is obvious from the context, is also present in the conversation:
Tom Keller: Different … you mean different photographic styles among the photographer?
Speak Up: No, the approach of how to, like, in thematic issues?
A morphosyntactic variant, the zero plural, can also be appreciated in this conversation:
Tom Keller: Well I think some of the difference
Tom Keller´s last answer starts with an ordinary wh- cleft-sentence, he uses it not only as a reliable signal of paragraph topic but also to give prominence to the last part of the sentence: it is in France where they have the opportunity to place a photo-story at the present time; then he goes on defining what he has focused: a photo-story and makes contrast with what happens in America. And the information flows through some elements which refer back to the given information, theme, while others state new information, rheme:
Tom Keller’s last turn:
Theme rheme

what Tom Keller tells is that in France you still have an opportunity to place a photo-story

that is more than one photograph by one photographer
Magazines in the USA may at times produce photo-stories

they are really confections

they are given as a kind of reward to the picture editor

he is given a couple of pages every couple of months to produce a story

As regards coherence and cohesion, items such as that, he and they can be decoded without major difficulty, they can be confirmed by looking back in the text; this is called anaphoric reference:
That refers to a photo-story
They refers to photo-stories
He refers to the picture editor

4. Evaluation
It should be noted that texts are linear but knowledge is not linear so every text producer faces with the problem of how to organize his/her non-linear thoughts in a linear form, so he/she uses rhetorical patterns. There is no doubt that any text is interactive, two participants are involved: producer and receiver, the former has to encode his thoughts and the latter has to decode them. It is also certain that language is not a simple tool for description or communication. Any text is made of simple patterns such as cohesion, repetition, reference and replacement, and complex patterns linking different parts of a text to each other. Discourse is concerned with functional properties, with what the producer is using the feature for and in doing so he /she makes a unique text.
As regards clefting sentences , it is important to remember that they are a very important syntactic device, a structural option to achieve emphasis, one of the requirements of communication. It is evident through the previous examples that wh-cleft sentences are less flexible that it-cleft sentences, in the sense that their specially focused element can be neither a preposition or adverb clause nor an adverbial clause. Finding cleft-sentences examples is an interesting task in any language research because in general they are less common than any other syntactic device.

Bibliography
Biber,D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S:, Finegan, E. 2007. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.
Boehmer, E. 2005. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Caputo, Amalia. 1996. “ Tom Keller. Magnum’s New York director”. Speak Up 127, 12. Copage, J. 2000. Writing. Essex: Longman.
Coulthard, M. 1995. Advances in Written Text Analysis. Routledge.
Jones, Robert. 1996. “The Kennedy obsession”. Speak Up 127, 16.
Laws, A. 1999. Writing Skills. Oxford: Summertown Publishing Ltd.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English :on line. Longman. http://www.longmandictionariesonline.com/
Marsimian, S. 2000. Lengua y Literatura. Buenos Aires: A-Z.
Ratcliffe, Justin. 1996. “The last expedition”. Speak Up 127, 25.
Swales, J. 1991. Genre Analysis. Cambridge University Press.
White, N. 2003. Writing Power. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Yesenia. 1998. “Curly girl”. Seventeen february, 128.