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Focus, please

From:Yahya Abdal-Aziz <yahya@...>
Date:Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 9:07
Hallo, you lot! ;-)

It's been a while; I've been away playing in sandpits on Mars,
and another [exo]planet I'm not yet at liberty to name.  Sadly,
though "Dark they Were and Golden-Eyed" in Ray Bradbury's
telling, the Martians have not left sufficient traces of their
languages to have allowed me to collect any useful material in
the (Martian) field.  As for the other place, well ... can't say
too much just yet, but the work is producing some promising

However!  I really should focus on the topic of this message,
which is not to"topic", but "focus".  Focus, please, Yahya! ;-)

Here's an extract from the latest Linguist List digest to land
in my email inbox:

"-------------------------Message 2 ----------------------------------
Date: Tue, 05 Aug 2008 10:31:14
From: Edgar Onea []
Subject: Focus Marking Strategies and Focus Interpretation
E-mail this message to a friend:

Full Title: Focus Marking Strategies and Focus Interpretation

Date: 04-Mar-2009 - 06-Mar-2009
Location: Osnabrueck, Germany
Contact Person: Edgar Onea
Meeting Email:

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics; Pragmatics; Semantics; Typology

Call Deadline: 15-Aug-2008

Meeting Description:

Workshop on 'Focus Marking Strategies and Focus Interpretation' as part of the
31st Annual Meeting of the German Linguistics Society (DGfS 2009), hosted by the
University of Osnabrueck/Germany.

Call for Papers

Extended Submission deadline until 15.08.2008.

Focus Marking Strategies and Focus Interpretation

The necessity of a strict distinction between focus as a category of information
structure related to the presence of alternatives in the interpretation context
and focus marking as the grammati-cal coding of focus is widely discussed in the
literature (Krifka 2007). Different focus marking strategies may, however, have
different effects on the interpretation of focus. A well-known example is
Hungarian, in which in-situ and ex-situ focus differ with regard to exhaustivity
and contrast (É.Kiss 1998). Similar findings have been reported on Finnish,
Turk-ish etc. Such findings support the hypothesis that focus interpretation
depends on the marking strategy in languages with several strategies of focus
marking at their disposal. However, re-search on other languages suggests that
this hypothesis may not hold universally. In Hausa (Chadic), for instance, any
interpretation available for ex-situ focus is also available for in-situ focus
(Hartmann & Zimmermann 2007). Moreover, even for Hungarian it has been argued
that the semantic difference between in-situ and ex-situ focus is related to a
specific syntactic posi-tion in the left periphery that may actually be
independent of focus (Horváth 2007).

These observations give rise to the following questions:
(i.) Can a general notion of focus as an underspecified information structural
category (often associated with prosodic prominence) with a unified semantic
interpretation mechanism in terms of alternatives (e.g. Rooth 1992) be
maintained? I.e., can we derive the differ-ences in meaning that are observable
with different strategies of focus marking from the different grammatical
structure of the respective sentences plus pragmatic principles?
(ii.) Do we need more fine-grained notions of information structure, such as
e.g. contrast, exhaustivity, newness, that divide the more general notion of
focus into subclasses, such that languages would use different marking
strategies for expressing them?

The workshop invites syntactic, semantic and typological work on different
strategies of focus marking and focus interpretation. In addition, we would also
encourage the presentation of diachronic data related to the evolution of
different strategies of focus marking. The workshop is of interest for
researchers working on linguistic interfaces. We are looking forward to
applications that provide data on and analyses of the effects of structural
encoding on the semantic and/or pragmatic interpretation."

In light of these observations and questions, the final paragraph invites
actions, many of which (it seems to me) members of this forum would be
singularly well-equipped to undertake.  I, too, would like to:
"encourage the presentation of diachronic data related to the evolution of
different strategies of focus marking" "and focus interpretation" - but in
the context, not of natlangs, but of conlangs.  My particular question to you
all at this point is this:

	How have you chosen to mark and interpret focus,
	and how and why have these choices evolved?

I'm well aware that this list has discussed focus in the past, but right now
I'd like to tap your collective wisdom and experience.  Hopefully, your replies
will enable me to assemble a survey of practice in this area; a second phase
might explore the underlying theories.


Yahya Abdal-Aziz

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David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>