I saw recently on Seinfeld a sentence which can allow for a good illustration of the difference between At issue and Not at issue content. Jerry, during his standup routine, wishes to say something about Plato being excited about the Platonic relationship, which is why he named it after himself. This requires the following contents to be presented in this order:
- Plato invented the platonic relationship
- He was excited about it
- That is why he named it after himself.
But, this information is too long winded in the form of these 3 sentences. Because “He was excited about it” is a distinctly subsequent contribution to the discourse, (a new sentence, the word he which depends on the previous sentence), it reads as an elaboration of the prior sentence. This means that the third sentence sounds like the punchline. But it is not quite the punchline, only an intermediate funny idea which informs the rest of the joke (left unstated). In order to concentrate this information, Jerry uses an appositive clause in the first sentence, saying
(1) “Apparently Plato, who invented the platonic relationship, was pretty excited about it”
This does at the same time two things which are able to re-organize information in ways that are beneficial for the desired flow of information. First, the fact that Plato invented in the platonic relationship is presented as Not at issue content, which means that it is asserted to be true by the speaker, but it is not something that the audience gets to dispute without regressing in the conversation. In response to (1), someone couldn’t say “That’s wrong” to mean that Plato didn’t invent the platonic relationship, only to mean that he was not excited about it. Because not at issue content is presented in this way, what it asserts is not taken to be the “main” part of the assertion, but is more parenthetical, often “Backround” stuff for understanding the main part of the sentence, as in this case. Second, the at issue content, which stands out more as, the kind of thing which will be elaborated on, guiding expectation (i.e. what is elaborated on will be that he was excited about it, not that he invented it). This is because the effect that at issue content has of determining what is “under discussion”. In (2), it is Plato’s excitement which is under discussion, even though his inventing the Platonic relationship is mentioned.