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The role of discourse, syntax and the lexicon in determining the nature and extent of focus

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SummaryThe paper compares broad focus, narrow focus and contrastive focus in English and Italian. It concludes that a focus cannot have a contrastive meaning unless some precise syntactic and discourse features “preliminarly” make it a narrow focus. The comparison between broad and narrow focus should be made on a syntactic and discourse level, whereas the relationship between narrow and contrastive focus is better described in semantic terms. In particular, a narrow focus arises when the intonational prominence is in a marked position, i.e. not only a position which is marked for the intonational prominence as such, but also any position that is marked for the constituent that bears the prominence. One difference in this respect between order in English (more fixed) and in Italian (less fixed) is analysed, leading to the conclusion that some relationships with narrow focus usually attributed to specific syntactic roles are better seen as a matter of simple position of the constituents. The different factors that cause contrastive focus (such as words belonging to closed paradigms, focus on given information, etc.) are analysed comparatively and a classification is suggested in terms of paradigmatic vs. syntagmatic contrast.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Roma Tre

Publication date: 2001-10-01

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