Patient Packaging in Informal and Formal, Oral and Written Bulgarian

John Leafgren, University of Arizona

According to Grenoble, "[i]nformation packaging has to do with the way utterances are formulated to fit into the communicative situation as a whole" (Deixis and Information Packaging in Russian Discourse, 1998:3). To this can be added Lambrecht's observation that central to analysis of information structure is "the idea that certain formal properties of sentences cannot be fully understood without looking at the linguistic and extralinguistic contexts in which the sentences having these properties are embedded" (Information Structure and Sentence Form, 1994: 2). The term "patient packaging" can then be used to refer specifically to the formal reflection of communicative properties in the expression of participants which undergo the actions reported in utterances. This paper focuses on one particular feature of patient packaging, which, together with linear placement, degree of explicitness and, in oral communication, intonational properties, is central to patient packaging. Namely, this paper addresses the selection by language users among the various morpho-syntactic techniques available in Bulgarian in the expression of patients.

Even brief, informal observation makes it clear that of the four primary patient-packaging techniques, one (the reduplicated/doubled direct object) has a colloquial, informal flavor, one (the grammatical subject of a participial passive construction) is more characteristic of formal use of the language, and the other two (the non-reduplicated direct object and the subject in a "passive" se-construction) are more nearly stylistically neutral. The following simple sentences illustrate these four packaging strategies. The second and fourth examples are from Ra÷ Hauge (A Short Grammar of Contemporary Bulgarian, 1999:143).

(1) Reduplicated Direct Object:
Milioni xora ja gledat tazi programa.
'Millions of people watch this program.'

(2) Subject of Participial Passive:
Tazi programa e gledana ot milioni xora.
'This program is watched by millions of people.'

(3) Non-reduplicated Direct Object:
Milioni xora gledat tazi programa.
'Millions of people watch this program.'

(4) Subject of se-construction:
Tazi programa se gleda ot milioni xora.
'This program is watched by millions of people.'

The current study investigates and proposes answers to three questions which arise from these informal observations:

    1. How great are the differences in patient-packaging preferences between the stylistic extremes found in colloquial oral communication and formal written communication?
    2. Do these preferences apply to all patients, or is there a specific type of patient which is responsible for the observed differences in frequencies in the selection of packaging method?
    3. Does formal (rather than colloquial) oral communication represent a middle ground between these two extremes as regards patient packaging?

The answers to these questions proposed in the paper are based on an examination of three separate data sources--taped conversations (representing the informal oral end of the spectrum), published scholarly prose (representing the formal written end of the spectrum), and debates on the floor of the Bulgarian Parliament (representing the formal oral "middle ground"). It will be shown that the examined data does statistically support the preliminary observations, that the observed differences in packaging preferences are in fact localized to a specific subset comprising only approximately one third of all patients, and that the oral formal data does represent a "middle ground" in its use of the stylistically marked techniques, and at the same time presents an extreme in frequency of use of one of the two stylistically neutral packaging methods.