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Bookmark and Share Paper 3047

Against a Unified Analysis of Givenness and Focus
Jon Scott Stevens
438-446 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This paper examines the role of Givenness in determining accent placement in English, and how it is constrained by syntactic structure. By default, the most prominent pitch accents in an utterance are assigned at the right edge of each Focused element, where Focus is either contrastively interpreted or determined by the Question Under Discussion (Rooth, 1992; Roberts, 1996). At the same time, elements which are Given, i.e. salient in the prior discourse, resist accent independently of this notion of Focus (Schwarzschild 1999). Wagner (2012) notices that in some cases, Givenness-based de-accenting is only possible when the XP immediately dominating the de-accented element has a contrastive antecedent in discourse. While Wagner uses this to argue for a unified account of Givenness and Focus, this paper shows that that analysis is not fully generalizable. Instead, this paper argues for maintaining separate notions of Focus and Givenness, and accounts for the restriction on some instances of de-accenting by positing a syntactic restriction on Givenness-marking: namely, an XP cannot be marked as Given unless it is the maximal projection of its head. This is accounted for by proposing a syntactic Givenness-feature which projects from a head to a maximal XP just like any other formal feature under standard generative assumptions. Cases which require a contrastive interpretation must be derived via Focus, and not via Givenness.

Published in

Proceedings of the 31st West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Robert E. Santana-LaBarge
Table of contents
Printed edition: $375.00