The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 5/6 - Daniel Büring

Speaker: Daniel Büring (University of Vienna)
Title: Backgrounded ≠ Given — The relation between focusing, givenness and stress in English
Date: Friday, May 6th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

Standard wisdom sees the given/new distinction, and its effects on (de)accenting, as either independent of, and ultimately secondary to, focusing (e.g. Fery & Samek-Lodovici 2006, Katz & Selkirk 2011), or subsumes it wholesale under an anaphoric theory of focusing (e.g. Schwarzschild 1999, Wagner 2006,2012, Büring 2012).

In this talk I explore a novel and rather different picture: givenness is a necessary, but not, ever, sufficient condition for deaccenting (or more in general for what I call “prosodic reversal”), and so is “contrastive focusabilty” (of the then-accented element). Crucially, the target of focussing (say, the value of C in Rooth’s, 1992, ~C), never has to be contextually salient; in other words: focusing is not anaphoric. Consequently, even the background of a focus only needs to be given if is deaccented (“prosodically demoted”).

This view offers new perspectives on a number of thorny problems, including the proper analysis of deaccenting (or the lack thereof) within broad foci (and yes, there will be “convertible” examples!). In a nutshell, using non-anaphoric focal targets (which now we may!), we can re-analyze all cases of apparent anaphoric deaccenting as narrow contrastive foci, while the givenness condition ensures that we do not deaccent (though possibly background) non-given elements.

The proposal is implemented in Unalternative Semantics, a new method for calculating focus alternatives, which solely looks at whether two sister nodes show default or non-default relative stress (no F- or G-marking!). I show that this method provides for a particularly natural implementation of the division of labor between focus and givenness argued for.