Questionnaire on Information Structure: reference manual

Author : Stavros Skopeteas, Ines Fiedler, Sam Hellmuth, Anne Schwarz, Ruben Stoel, Gisbert Fanselow, Caroline Féry Manfred Krifka

Publication date : 2006

Questionnaire URL :

Bibliographical references :

Skopeteas, Stavros et al. 2006. Questionnaire on Information Structure: Reference Manual. ISIS Volume 4. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam


This manual is made up of 6 chapters to guide the linguists when investigating the informational structure of a language.

Protocol summary

''The publication of the questionnaire is divided into six chapters. After an introductory chapter, chapter 2 provides an instrument to deal with the grammar of languages to be investigated. A set of questions bearing on the phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic structure have to be filled in by the researcher, who is in the ideal case a native speaker of the language. These questions lean on a long tradition of typological questionnaires such as Comrie & Smith (1977), and recent archives of typological features (Bickel & Nichols 2000, Brown et al. 2006, Corbett et al. 2006, König et al. 2006, to cite just a few). The aim of these questionnaires is to allow for cross-linguistic comparisons in terms of more or less standardized sets of grammatical properties. Chapter 3 contains 29 experimental tasks that are described in detail. Since they make up the main part of the research agenda, they are addressed further in the next section of this introduction. (...) Different kinds of material accompany the experimental tasks: pictures, playing cards, and short films. The tasks have different forms and different functions. Some of them elicit just one sentence, while others trigger a whole dialogue. Chapter 4 of the questionnaire contains translational tasks, i.e. sets of sentences to be translated both orally and in written form, completing the experimental tasks. The aim of this part is to provide a complete list of the different ways of expressing information structure, and in particular any strategies which may not have been used spontaneously by the informants while performing the experimental tasks. It thus provides a systematic control of the range of linguistic means used to express different information structural notions, and complements the results obtained from spontaneous production. Elicitation through translation has largely been used in language typology, from the beginning of language comparative studies (see for instance the translation tasks of Bouquiaux & Thomas, 1987, for languages without literary tradition) up to recent typological studies (see Dahl 2000). Several viewpoints about the validity of data collected through translation in Newman & Ratcliff (2001) highlight the potential priming effects of the contact language on the resulting data, as well as the qualitative differences between data elicited in this way and real spontaneous communication. Nevertheless, translation remains a valuable method of eliciting data for comparative purposes, and proposals have also been made about means to restrict the methodological disadvantages (especially with respect to priming effects, see Dahl 2000). Chapter 5 is devoted to the interpretation of the data set collected through the QUIS. It provides some hints which grammatical forms can be expected to express certain information structural categories. The questionnaire ends with chapter 6 containing information concerning the performance of the tasks in the field, and forms for documentation of field sessions (field session metadata; informant’s agreement)'' (Skopeteas et al., 2006: 5-7)

Development context

"Information structure is concerned both with ‘mental states’ of speakers and hearers and with linguistic means used to convey these mental states. In other words, the linguist interested in information structure (IS), deals simultaneously with formal and communicative aspects of language. The main contrasts concern ‘new’, ‘accessible’ and ‘given’, as well as ‘topic’, focus,’ and ‘background’". (Skopeteas et al., 2006: 1)

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