Séminaire Théories et données linguistiques

Dates :
Vendredi 10 décembre 2021 - 14:30 - 17:30
Lieu :
Par visioconférence

Complementarity of prosody and syntax: focus and cleft clauses in French, English, German, Chinese

Stavros Skopeteas, University of Göttingen

Focus constructions may appear in different arrays of contexts depending on language: while cleft constructions are associated with contrastive focus in English, they appear in a larger array of contexts in French. A part of the cross-linguistic variation is accounted for through independent differences in prosody that influence the array of focus structures that can be mapped onto the same syntactic configuration.
In the present study, we compare four languages that represent different prosodic types:
languages with flexible pitch accent placement (English, German),
a language that relies on prosodic phrasing (French) and
a language with lexical tones (Mandarin Chinese).In a speech production experiment, we examine the prosodic realization of corrective focus on canonical sentences and cleft constructions and identify prosodic reflexes of focus in all languages. In a second experiment, we elicit judgments of contextual felicity of canonical and cleft constructions in contexts with different domains of corrective focus. The outcome of this experiment reveals a typological distinction between languages with flexible pitch accent placement (English, German) and languages with other types of reflexes of focus (French, Chinese). The former languages (but not the latter) use canonical constructions without contextual restrictions; the use of cleft constructions with a focus in the cleft clause (in corrective contexts) has an advantage in the former languages compared to the latter.
These findings indicate that the prosodic reflexes of focus in various languages have different semantic-pragmatic import and accordingly a different impact on the array of focus structures of the same constructions in each language.

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