La sente Lei sua sorella?
What does it mean? My book says that it means "Will you hear from your sister? (form., m. or f.)" but I don't get it and feel like something is wrong.
The translation is correct, although a significant nuance ends up lost in translation. Literally it's: la (her) sente (hear) Lei (you), sua (your) sorella (sister)? The comma isn't necessary in Italian, but it makes sense in English. What's happening here is that the speaker is "downgrading" the object (your sister) using a clitic pronoun for it, and "upgrading" the subject (you) by putting it after the verb in an emphatic position: then, since the clitic pronoun might not be enough for the listener to understand the topic, it's specified afterwards, a bit as an afterthought. The focus of the sentence is on the "you", i.e. "will you be the one to hear from your sister (or should I do it myself)?". The topic can also be introduced first, e.g. "Sua sorella la sente Lei?". If you wanted to ask if they do hear from their sister (in general), you would say "(Lei) la sente sua sorella?". The straight sentence with no emphasis of course would be "(Lei) sente sua sorella?", but that makes it seem as if the sister is speaking in that very moment.
- La sente Lei sua sorella? = Will you (not others) hear from her sister?
Here is a word-by-word analysis of the sentence. Let's start from the alternative construction
- Sua sorella la sente Lei? (same meaning)
whose details can be found in this article:
Sua sorella = the theme marker, a.k.a. the direct object of the straightforward sentence (Lei sente sua sorella?) which has been dislocated to the left, i.e. placed at the beginning, in order to inform the listener what is the main topic of this sentence.
la = direct object clitic pronoun, i.e. a repetition of the direct object (what is called a 'resumption clitic pronoun'), which refers to the dislocated sua sorella.
sente = verb, it agrees with the postponed subject (Lei). Here the present tense is used for indicating an action in the near future → future tense in English. The verb is transitive, therefore in Italian "one hears someone" (not "from someone").
Lei = subject pronoun, in postponed position, i.e. after the verb, thus emphasized.
- La sente Lei sua sorella?
is just a variant in which the theme marker (i.e. the direct object sua sorella) is dislocated to the right, at the end of the sentence, instead of standing at the beginning. This does not alter the overall meaning.
In this construction, the voice pitch should rise on Lei (the postponed subject), and then lower again in pronouncing the dislocated theme marker (sua sorella).
Notes about the formal register.
Being capitalized, Lei refers to the listener ("you"), in the formal register.
Instead sua, not capitalized, means "her" (not "your" in the formal register).
This is how the capitalization of lei/Lei and sua/Sua can affect the meaning of this sentence:
La sente Lei sua sorella? = Will you (not others) hear from her sister?
La sente Lei Sua sorella? = Will you (not others) hear from your sister?
La sente lei Sua sorella? = Will she (not others) hear from your sister?
La sente lei sua sorella? = Will she (not others) hear from her sister?
In the spoken language, capitalization is not perceived. So the meaning can be understood only from the context.
P.S. - The right dislocation of the object is supposed to be dealt with in part III of the article about the theme marker... but I still have to write part II. :-D
I apologize to my followers for the long wait.