MoL-2001-01: Extending Focus Theories: Particles in Focus

MoL-2001-01: Khavtasi, Levan (2001) Extending Focus Theories: Particles in Focus. [Report]

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Particles are notorious for their complexity. Plenty of unclarities surround semantic and pragmatic functions these entities play on sentential and discourse levels. Some particles have been argued to have a certain semantic import on the meaning of the sentence in which they appear. Others can clearly be stated not to contribute to the propositional content of a sentence. Still, even in such cases, particles somehow seem to posses the power to make otherwise infelicitous utterances into felicitous ones and omitting them is not an always available option. Empirical evidence that language-learners are especially troubled grasping the 'right circumstances' in which the utterance of a certain particle can be assimilated to cases of correct usage is yet another witness to their distinctly problematic nature. Things are further complicated with the fact that some particles can be stressed, showing 'semantic variation' from their own unstressed uses. By semantic variation we mean either a change in the presupposition triggered by the occurrence of a particle, or a change in the pragmatic purpose a particle serves on a sentential/discourse level. As an illustration, we give an example (adopted from Zeevat, (to appear)) with Dutch particle toch: (1) Laten we hem vrijdag opzoeken. Hij is dan toch in Amsterdam. (Let us visit him on Friday. He is then in Amsterdam anyway). (2) Hij is TOCH in Amsterdam. (He is in Amsterdam after all). Efforts to summarize on a minimal level what role toch plays in a sentence, lead us to two different 'entries' for this particle in case of (1) and (2). In the second example, we can say that toch (that is, TOCH) presupposes the negation of what is said; it is thinkable that prior to the utterance of (2) somebody said that 'He' was not in Amsterdam. In (1), however, toch can be said to presuppose what is said; it just marks the fact of it coming as no surprise that 'He' is in Amsterdam - the speaker assumes interlocutors to already know about this as old material. Toch (which is identical to German doch) is not alone in this 'double-behavior'. Below we give similar two-fold 'definitions' for some of the other Dutch particles: * Wel with stress: marks the correction of a negated sentence (in a sentence which asserts the opposite) without stress: probably * Ook ( = German auch) with stress: corresponds to English too without stress: expanding on an earlier sentence * Weer ( = German wieder) with stress: no resumptive readings without stress: also resumptive readings Some languages, like Dutch and German, show a curious similarity with respect to some of their particles, and even the relevant semantic variations associated with these when under stress. The German counterpart of Dutch toch is doch - it is indicated within brackets in the list above. Quite expectedly, other languages too, host the same phenomenon. Below, we give descriptions of semantic variations for particles in three more languages, supported with examples where needed and/or available: * Again (English) without stress: has its ordinary lexical meaning with stress: conveys speaker's 'negative attitude' example: John closed the window AGAIN (it was John who closed it before and the speaker is annoyed he did it again) * Too (English) without stress: has its ordinary lexical meaning with stress: marks the correction of the negated sentence example: A: Bill is coming to the party B: But John is not A: No, he is coming TOO * Khom (Georgian) with stress: a) marks speaker's presupposition when evidence to the contrary is available (has a slight 'father-to-son' flavor) b) even more, to a much greater extent c) together with negation particles ar or ver asks for confirmation of the negated sentence, when in reality, the opposite result is desired without stress: speaker conveys belief that his utterance is a mutual belief between him and hearer (parallels Dutch immers) * Ami (Bulgarian) first vocal stressed: speaker does not agree with hearer on the subject addressed in the previous utterance last vocal stressed: speaker conveys his surprise without stress: basically, expresses speaker's agreement to the previous utterance by hearer Having seen that the phenomenon is cross-linguistically wide-spread enough to be worth investigating, we take a slightly different approach. We will limit ourselves to Dutch particles wel, niet and especially toch (since toch proves to be unique in many respects not only compared to other Dutch particles, but also to its 'foreign colleges'), and will explore the question of whether 'stressed occurrence of a particle' can be understood as 'focused occurrence of a particle', bringing us to a crucial issue - whether or not stressed particles can be considered to be foci of sentences in which they appear. To sufficiently deal with this question we see as one of the main tasks of the current project.

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: MoL-2001-01
Series Name: Master of Logic Thesis (MoL) Series
Year: 2001
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 14:38
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2016 14:38

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