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Pragmatics of Focus  

Jon Scott Stevens

Generally speaking, ‘focus’ refers to the portion of an utterance which is especially informative or important within the context, and which is marked as such via some linguistic means. It can be difficult to provide a single precise definition, as the term is used somewhat differently for different languages and in different research traditions. Most often, it refers to the linguistic marking of (i) contrast, (ii) question-answering status, (iii) exhaustivity, or (iv) discourse unexpectability. An illustration of each of these possibilities is given below. In English, the focus-marked elements (indicated below with brackets) are realized with additional prosodic prominence in the form of a strong pitch accent (indicated by capital letters). (i) An [AMERICAN] farmer met a [CANADIAN] farmer… (ii) Q: Who called last night? A: [BILL] called last night. (iii) Only [an ELEPHANT] could have made those tracks. (iv) I can’t believe it: The Ohioans are fighting [OHIOANS] ! The underlying intuition common to all these instantiations is that a focus represents the minimal information needed to convey an important semantic distinction. Focus can be signaled prosodically (e.g., in the form of a strong pitch accent), syntactically (e.g., by moving focused phrases to a special position in the sentence), or morphologically (e.g., by appending a special affix to focused elements), with different crosslinguistic focus marking strategies often carrying slightly different restrictions on their use. Example (i) evokes a set of two contrasting alternatives, {‘American farmer,’ ‘Canadian farmer’}, and the meaning ‘farmer’ is common to both members of the set. That is, within this evoked set of alternatives, ‘farmer’ is redundant, and it is the nationality of the farmers which differentiates the two people. Example (ii) exhibits a similar property. One of the standard theories of question semantics represents questions as sets of possible appropriate answers. For (ii), this would be a set of propositions like {‘Bill called last night, ‘Sue called last night,’ etc.}. As with (i), there is an evoked set of meanings whose members share some overlapping semantic material. Within this set, the verb phrase meaning ‘called last night’ is redundant, and it is the identity of the subject that serves to differentiate the true answer. Example (iii) demonstrates a relationship between focus and certain words like only. The sentence means something like ‘of all the animals who might have made these tracks, it must be an elephant.’ As with (i) and (ii), this involves a set of alternatives: the set of possible track makers. That the sentence serves to single out a unique member of this set as being the true track maker makes the subject an elephant a natural focus of the sentence. Finally, in (iv), we see that focus on ‘Ohioans’ is being used to contrast the semantic content of the sentence with some preconception, namely that Ohioans are unlikely fighters of Ohioans. Examples (iii) and (iv) point to more specific uses of focus in different languages. In Hungarian, so-called identificational focus, which is marked syntactically, requires an exhaustive interpretation, as if a silent only were present. And in some Chadic languages, a meaning of “discourse unexpectability,” as in (iv), is required to mark focus via syntactic or morphological means.


Focus and Focus Structures in the Romance Languages  

Silvio Cruschina

Focus is key to understanding processes of syntactic and prosodic readjustments in the Romance languages. Since, prosodically, it must be the most prominent constituent in the sentence, focus associates with the nuclear pitch accent, which may be shifted from its default rightmost position when the syntactic position of the focus also changes. The application of specific syntactic operations depends both on the size and on the subtype of focus, although not always unambiguously. Subject inversion characterizes focus structures where the domain of focus covers either the whole sentence (broad-focus) or a single constituent (narrow-focus). Presentational constructions distinctively mark broad focus, avoiding potential ambiguity with an SVO structure where the predicate is the focus and the subject is interpreted as topic. In narrow-focus structures, the focus constituent typically occurs sentence-final (postverbal focalization), but it may also be fronted (focus fronting), depending on the specific interpretation associated with the focus. Semantically, focus indicates the presence of alternatives, and the different interpretations arise from the way the set of alternatives is pragmatically exploited, giving rise to a contextually open set (information focus), to contrast or correction (contrastive or corrective focus), or to surprise or unexpectedness (mirative focus). Whether a subtype of focus may undergo fronting in a Romance language is subject to variation. In most varieties it is indeed possible with contrastive or corrective focus, but it has been shown that focus fronting is also acceptable with noncontrastive focus in several languages, especially with mirative focus. Finally, certain focus-sensitive operators or particles directly interact with the narrow-focus constituent of the sentence and their association with focus has semantic effects on the interpretation of the sentence.


Focus in Chinese  

Peppina Po-lun Lee and Yueming Sun

Focus is a phenomenon intertwined between different levels of linguistics and context/discourse, and different languages appeal to different ways in marking focus. Chinese mainly adopts syntactic structures and focus markers for focus marking. Different from European languages, it is widely acknowledged that Chinese uses more syntax and less phonology in focus realization. It is argued that Chinese is a language that exhibits a reverse relationship between syntactic positioning and phonological prominence of focus, and focus types in Chinese are generally viewed from a grammatical perspective. With syntax as a prominent way of focus marking, Chinese appeals to a wide range of syntactic constructions to mark focus. While sentence-final position by default is taken as the position where new information is located, focus can be grammatically marked by constructions like shi…de ‘be…DE’ construction, bare shi construction, and bare de construction, with bare shi construction seemingly representing the closest to cleft constituent among the three. Apart from the variants in different shi constructions, object preposing is also another way of grammatical focus marking in Chinese, which involves the issue of whether the preposed object marks focus or subtopic, with both bearing a contrastive feature. Apart from focus marking through syntactic constructions, Chinese appeals to preverbal focus adverbs as their focus particles. Natural language includes two types of focus particles—namely, restrictive and additive particles. For restrictive adverbs, Chinese appeals to the first group through the adjunction of the exclusive adverb, including zhi(-you/-shi) ‘only(-have/be)’, with exclusiveness conducted by grammatical mechanism. Apart from this, the second group includes the widely recognized restrictive focus particles that do not perform restrictive focus marking through adjunction. Typical members include jiu ‘only’, cai ‘only’, and dou ‘all’, which are sensitive to focus and affect the truth condition of a sentence. Among the restrictive focus particles, jiu and cai are most controversial, with both translated as only in English. For additive particles, one widely discussed focus-marking construction is lian...dou/ye ‘even...all/also’, which is argued to mark inclusive or additive focus. Other additive adverbs include at least four—namely, you ‘again/too’, ye ‘also’, hai ‘still’, and zai ‘again’, with their English counterparts taken as also, even, again, still, or too. Focus markers in Chinese tend to be polysemous in meaning, making their semantics very complicated. On top of this, it is claimed that the linear order of constituents also plays an important role in focus structuring in Mandarin, with discourse and prosody structurally interacting with word order or syntactic structures to determine focus structures in Chinese. Linearity and syntax represent the two major ways of focus marking in Chinese. This is unlike English and other European languages, in which intonation and phonological prominence represent the major way.


Object-Fronting in Archaic Chinese  

Victor Junnan Pan and Yihe Jiao

The SOV order is very productive in Archaic Chinese. Most scholars believe that Archaic Chinese has SVO as basic word order and that SOV is derived by fronting the direct object from the postverbal position to a preverbal position. The most frequent cases involving object fronting in Archaic Chinese are those with pronominal objects. For instance, when the direct object is an interrogative pronoun, a demonstrative, or an ordinary personal pronoun appearing in a negative sentence, it is usually fronted to a preverbal position. Historically, object fronting has already been observed in oracle bone script, and gradually disappeared in the Han dynasty (202 bce–220 ce). After the Wei and Jin dynasties (220–420 ce), object fronting was extremely rare, and it only occurred in fixed expressions, which even stay in Modern Chinese in the early 21st century. Object fronting in Archaic Chinese can be roughly classified into two categories: unmarked object fronting and marked object fronting. The former category includes cases in which the object is positioned in a preverbal position or a pre-prepositional position without any morphosyntactic marking devices, while the latter category includes cases in which the fronted object can be either preceded or followed by some morphosyntactic markers. For instance, a fronted object can be followed by shì (是) or zhī (之), both of which are the most frequent markers co-occurring with a fronted object in Archaic Chinese. Given that both zhī (之) and shì (是) were used as pronouns and demonstratives in Archaic Chinese, when they appear in sentences involving object fronting, some scholars treat them as resumptive pronouns referring to the object NP. Due to the presence of the resumptive pronoun, object NP is allowed to be fronted in a preverbal position. In fact, there is no fixed position as a landing site for fronted objects in Archaic Chinese; instead, different preverbal positions exist. Fronted objects can be followed by functional elements of different categories: negative elements such as bù (不), wèi (未), mò (莫), and wú (无); ordinary adverbs such as qián (前) ‘before’ and jūn (均) ‘all’; modal verbs such as néng (能) ‘be able to’, dé (得) ‘be able to’, gǎn (敢) ‘dare’, and kěn (肯) ‘be willing to’; control verbs such as rěn (忍) ‘bear’ and zhī (知) ‘know’; conjunctions such as yì (亦) ‘and’, yòu (又) ‘and, as well as’, and shàng (尚) ‘yet’; and modal adverbs such as qí (其) indicating a rhetorical meaning, jiāng (将) ‘will, would’ and qiě (且) ‘will, would’. Object fronting in Archaic Chinese is closely linked to information structure. For instance, when the focalized element in a negative sentence is the direct object, then such an object will be fronted.


Chinese Dou Quantification  

Yuli Feng and Haihua Pan

Dou has been seen as a typical example of universal quantification and the point of departure in the formal study of quantification in Chinese. The constraints on dou’s quantificational structure, dou’s diverse uses, and the compatibility between dou and other quantificational expressions have further promoted the refinement of the theory of quantification and sparked debate over the semantic nature of dou. The universal quantificational approach holds that dou is a universal quantifier and explains its diverse uses as the effects produced by quantification on different sorts of entities and different ways of quantificational mapping. However, non-quantificational approaches, integrating the insights of degree semantics and focus semantics, take the scalar use as dou’s core semantics. The quantificational approach to dou can account for its meaning of exclusiveness and the interpretational differences engendered by dou when it associates with a wh-indeterminate to its left or to its right, whereas non-quantificational approaches cannot determine the interpretational differences caused by rightward and leftward association and cannot explain the exclusive use of dou. Despite the differences, the various approaches to dou, quantificational or non-quantificational, have far-reaching theoretical significance for understanding the mechanism of quantification in natural language.


Pragmatics and Intonation  

Brady Clark

Intonation impacts pragmatic meaning. A range of empirical evidence shows that the pragmatic functions of intonation are specifiable. The dimensions of meaning impacted by intonation include at-issue meanings (for example, what is asserted in an assertion), presuppositions, conversational implicatures, and conventional implicatures. Certain linguistic expressions (such as the English exclusive only) are dependent on intonation, and some of these dependencies impact at-issue meaning. Intonation can also trigger certain presuppositions, in particular a certain type of anaphoric presupposition associated with the discourse context. There is also a robust interaction between intonation and implicature. The intonational prominence associated with focus can trigger certain scalar, existence, and exhaustive conversational implicatures. Finally, certain intonational contours (for example, the rise-fall-rise contour) appear to define conventional implicatures.


Existential and Locative Constructions in the Romance Languages  

Delia Bentley

Existential and locative constructions form an interesting cluster of copular structures in Romance. They are clearly related, and yet there are theoretical reasons to keep them apart. In-depth analysis of the Romance languages lends empirical support to their differentiation. In semantic terms, existentials express propositions about existence or presence in an implicit contextual domain, whereas locatives express propositions about the location of an entity. In terms of information structure, existentials are typically all new or broad focus constructions. Locatives are normally characterized by focus on the location, although this can also be a presupposed topic. Romance existentials are formed with a copula and a postcopular phrase (the pivot). A wide range of variation is found in copula selection, copula-pivot agreement, expletive subjects, the presence and function of an etymologically locative precopular proform, and, finally, the categorial status of the pivot, which is normally a noun phrase, but can also be an adjective (Calabrian, Sicilian). As for Romance locatives, a distinction must be drawn between, on the one hand, a construction with canonical SV order and S-V agreement and, on the other hand, another construction, with VS order and, in some languages, lack of V-S agreement. This latter structure has been named inverse locative. Both existentials and locatives have a nonverbal predicate: the locative phrase in locatives and the postcopular noun or adjectival phrase in existentials. In locatives the predicate selects a thematic argument (i.e., an argument endowed with a thematic role), which serves as the syntactic subject, exception being made for inverse locatives in some languages. Contrastingly, in existentials, there is no thematic argument. In some languages the copula turns to the pivot for agreement, as this is the only overt noun phrase endowed with person and number features (Italian, Friulian, Romanian, etc.). In other languages this non-canonical agreement is not licensed (French, some Calabrian dialects, Brazilian Portuguese, etc.). In others still (Spanish, Sardinian, European Portuguese, Catalan, Gallo-Italian, etc.), it is only admitted with pivot classes that can be defined in terms of specificity. When the copula does not agree with the pivot, an expletive subject form may figure in precopular position. The cross-linguistic variation in copula-pivot agreement has been claimed to depend on language-specific constraints on subjecthood. Highly specific pivots are only admitted in contextualized existentials, which express a proposition about the presence of an individual or an entity in a given and salient context. These existentials are found in all the Romance languages and would seem to defy the semantico-pragmatic constraints on the pivot that are widely known as Definiteness Effects.



Eva Hajičová

In the linguistic literature, the term theme has several interpretations, one of which relates to discourse analysis and two others to sentence structure. In a more general (or global) sense, one may speak about the theme or topic (or topics) of a text (or discourse), that is, to analyze relations going beyond the sentence boundary and try to identify some characteristic subject(s) for the text (discourse) as a whole. This analysis is mostly a matter of the domain of information retrieval and only partially takes into account linguistically based considerations. The main linguistically based usage of the term theme concerns relations within the sentence. Theme is understood to be one of the (syntactico-) semantic relations and is used as the label of one of the arguments of the verb; the whole network of these relations is called thematic relations or roles (or, in the terminology of Chomskyan generative theory, theta roles and theta grids). Alternatively, from the point of view of the communicative function of the language reflected in the information structure of the sentence, the theme (or topic) of a sentence is distinguished from the rest of it (rheme, or focus, as the case may be) and attention is paid to the semantic consequences of the dichotomy (especially in relation to presuppositions and negation) and its realization (morphological, syntactic, prosodic) in the surface shape of the sentence. In some approaches to morphosyntactic analysis the term theme is also used referring to the part of the word to which inflections are added, especially composed of the root and an added vowel.


Focus-Predicate Concord kakari musubi Constructions in Japanese and Okinawan  

Rumiko Shinzato

In a special Focus-to-Predicate concord construction (kakari musubi), specific focus particles called kakari joshi correlate with predicate conjugational endings, or musubi, other than regular finite forms, creating special illocutionary effects, such as emphatic assertion or question. In Old Japanese, a particle ka, s(/z)ö, ya, or namu triggers an adnominal ending, while kösö calls for a realis ending. In Old Okinawan, ga or du prompts an adnominal ending, while sɨ associates with realis endings. Kakari musubi existed in Proto-Japonic but died out in the Japanese branch; however, it is still preserved in its sister branch, Ryukyuan, in the Okinawan language. This concord phenomenon, observed in only a few languages of the world, presents diverse issues concerning its evolution from origin to demise, the functional and semantic differences of its kakari particles (e.g., question-forming Old Japanese ka vs. ya) and positional (sentence-medial vs. sentence-final) contrast. Furthermore, kakari musubi bears relevance to syntactic constructions such as clefts and nominalizations. Finally, some kakari particles stemming from demonstratives offer worthy data for theory construction in grammaticalization or iconicity. Because of its far reaching relevance, the construction has garnered attention from both formal and functional schools of linguistics.


Okinawan Language  

Shinsho Miyara

Within the Ryukyuan branch of the Japonic family of languages, present-day Okinawan retains numerous regional variants which have evolved for over a thousand years in the Ryukyuan Archipelago. Okinawan is one of the six Ryukyuan languages that UNESCO identified as endangered. One of the theoretically fascinating features is that there is substantial evidence for establishing a high central phonemic vowel in Okinawan although there is currently no overt surface [ï]. Moreover, the word-initial glottal stop [ʔ] in Okinawan is more salient than that in Japanese when followed by vowels, enabling recognition that all Okinawan words are consonant-initial. Except for a few particles, all Okinawan words are composed of two or more morae. Suffixation or vowel lengthening (on nouns, verbs, and adjectives) provides the means for signifying persons as well as things related to human consumption or production. Every finite verb in Okinawan terminates with a mood element. Okinawan exhibits a complex interplay of mood or negative elements and focusing particles. Evidentiality is also realized as an obligatory verbal suffix.


Sentence Fragment Ellipsis in Chinese  

Audrey Yen-hui Li and Ting-chi Wei

Understanding what sentence fragments requires a detailed investigation of their properties. Relevant studies have classified fragments into four types according to the use of the copular verb shi ‘be’ with fragments: the occurrence of the sentence-final particle ne, syntactic categories allowed, island effects, P-stranding, and connectivity effects. It is shown that the distinction of fragments into different types is not necessary. The wider range of data considered fails to convincingly support the need for distinction, and a unified analysis of all fragments should be pursued. Three logical possibilities for a unified approach to sentence fragments are evaluated: (a) fragment as a result of deleting all but the fragment of a sentence (movement + deletion approach), (b) fragment base-generated as [pro + copular verb + fragment], and (c) fragment base-generated as a fragment. The first two options face challenges. The last option, even though seemingly a more adequate analysis for the range of facts, requires connectivity effects to be analyzed in semantic terms.