Theme with Variations A Context-based Analysis of Focus – abstract –

Kata Balogh

The central matter of the dissertation is a context-based analysis of focus. After a general introduction, chapter 2 introduces the basic framework of our analysis: Inquisitive Semantics and Dialogue Pragmatics (Groenendijk 2008). Groenendijk’s theory provides a dialogue modeling system which consists of an inquisitive update semantics and pragmatics combined with inquisitive dialogue management rules. The semantics (and the logic behind it) is constructed in such a way that sentences can provide information and raise issues. The dialogue modeling proceeds in accordance with the dialogue management rules, where the core notion is the common ground, formally defined as a stack of states. In our update semantics utterances change the common ground in adding new states to the common ground stack. First, all uptake is considered as preliminary and the next turn of the responder will determine to what extent these uptakes cause a change of the common ground. This set-up makes it possible to easily incorporate critical dialogue moves. The core of the dissertation is introduced in the chapters 3 to 5, that provide an extension of Groenendijk’s basic system with some changes required for the analysis of focus in natural language.

A new focus analysis in Inquisitive Semantics The main aim of chapter 3 is to provide a uniform analysis in the system of Inquisitive Semantics of the most common discourse relations where focusing appears. We show that our semantics and dialogue management rules provide us with an adequate and elegant analysis of discourse related phenomena around focus, such as: focusing in answers, question-answer relations, contrast in denial and specification by focusing. The first part of the chapter introduces our representation of sentences containing narrow (free) focus that is marked by prosody in English. The kernel of the analysis is the formal definition of the theme/rheme division of sentences relative to their focus structure. We claim that focusing leads to specific ways of the division between theme and rheme, where the inherent question behind the utterance, hence the theme of it, is determined by the placement of the focus accent. We claim that the intonation pattern of the sentence determines the way of division and determines the theme that has an important role in our semantics. The second part of the chapter discusses the core dialogue relations where focusing occurs. The most important relation is the relation between questions and their answers, that is captured by the notion of a congruent answer. We provide an analysis of question-answer congruence that differs from Rooth (1985,1992) and Krifka (2001) in that in our system we do not need to define any separate rule or conditions for congruent answers (such as the preference of minimal focus), but the system itself rules out non-congruent answers on the basis of the logical notion of relatedness that is a core notion in the characterization of a coherent discourse. Furthermore, we also do not need a special congruence rule, since the system itself rules out the non-congruent answers.


Exhaustivity and ‘Only’ Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the main issues of the exhaustive interpretation of answers and the special interpretation effects of the focus particle ‘only’. We introduce the issues that have recently been raised around the exhaustive interpretation of answers in relation to the phenomenon of scalar implicatures in the ongoing debate between the global approaches of the neo-gricean analyses and the localist view that proposes to make pragmatic implicatures part of the computational system of the grammar. We propose an analysis of the exhaustive interpretation of answers as a pragmatic inference calculated at the sentential level. In our analysis, exhaustive interpretation is due to the so-called secondary uptake of the utterance and is carried out technically by the operation of alternative exclusion, which is an alternation and refreshment of the original idea of Groenendijk (2008). The new definition of alternative exclusion refers to the possible propositions that are singled out from the possibilities in the context. Our definition captures formally the essence of the Quantity maxim, in excluding all strictly stronger possibilities from the actual context. By our definition we obtain the intended interpretation for the exhaustive answers and the scalar implicature of disjunctions by a uniform mechanism with no need to assume any additional special notions such as innocently excludable (Fox 2007) or minimal models (van Rooij and Schulz 2007). Chapter 5 investigates the use of ‘only’ in linguistic answers and proposes a new analysis following the ideas of Zeevat (2008) and our earlier approach in (Balogh 2005). The main claims are that the focus sensitive particle ‘only’ introduces a special issue ‘are there more’ that corresponds to the expectation that Zeevat proposes to be the core of the semantic contribution of ‘only’. We define the division that results from an ‘only’-sentence, as leading to a special theme consisting of the host/positive contribution together with the special issue of expectation, while the rheme is simply the negative contribution that can be considered as resolving the actual issue by ‘only’ or as canceling the expectation. We also look at free focus and ‘only’ from a new angle and compare its behavior in the dialogue relation of denial. In our analysis we give an account of the main difference between free focus and ‘only’ with respect to denial.

Matters of structural focus in Hungarian The last chapter discusses some central issues around the interpretation of structural focus in Hungarian. With respect to exhaustivity and focusing strategies, Hungarian is particularly interesting language. The well-known characteristic of Hungarian is that it has a special position for the focused constituent right in front of the finite verb. This position is claimed to be associated with an exhaustive / identificational semantic interpretation. There are two important questions around focusing in Hungarian. First, an explanation is required of what triggers the movement and secondly, in connection with that, we have to explain the interpretational effects of it, with special attention to exhaustive listing. For the analysis of focusing in Hungarian we suggest that we can stick to the analysis of the exhaustive interpretation via a pragmatic inference similarly as for English focusing, but there is also an important difference. In Hungarian, in case focusing was not triggered by something else (contrastive topic, stress avoiding verb etc.) then focusing is used to signal that exhaustivity is obligatory, hence cannot be cancelled.


Theme with Variations

The central matter of the dissertation is a context-based analysis of focus. ... definition of the theme/rheme division of sentences relative to their focus structure.

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