The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

24.921 Topics in the semantics and phonology of sentence prosody

Instructors: Edward Flemming and Irene Heim
Room: 32-D461
Time: Monday 2-5
Course website: here

Different ways of pronouncing the same sentence can convey different messages. In at least some cases, the differences concern aspects of meaning of the type modeled by formal semantics and pragmatics (e.g. truth conditions, presuppositions, implicatures, context change potential). These are the sorts of phenomena we will study in this class, with the ultimate aim of sharpening phonological and semantic concepts that enter into their explanation.

Examples of semantic-pragmatic concepts that we will examine include focus, different kinds of focus (e.g. information focus, contrastive focus), givenness, topic, question-under-discussion, speaker’s and hearer’s commitment sets, and others. Examples of phenomena include question-answer congruence, association with focus, prosodic disambiguation of quantifier scope, “question intonation” on declaratives. We will discuss classic and recent work by Rooth, Schwarzschild, Büring, Truckenbrodt, Gunlogson, Wagner, Constant, and others. In the process, we will investigate the nature of the prosodic representations that are relevant to these phenomena, examining the roles of prominence/stress, intonational melody and phrasing in signaling meaning distinctions.

The first lecture will be partly based on the material in Jackendoff (1972) ch. 6, and will preview in more detail the research questions that will guide us for the remainder of the semester.