DS-2009-07: Theme with Variations. A Context-based Analysis of Focus

DS-2009-07: Balogh, Kata (2009) Theme with Variations. A Context-based Analysis of Focus. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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In this dissertation I proposed a new, context-based analysis of
focusing in the framework of Inquisitive Semantics (2008). The logical
system of Groenendijk's framework is introduced for modeling dialogues
and motivated by this aim it is defined in such a way that it can
handle both questions and assertions in a uniform way. In the syntax
of inquisitive logic there is no separate category for
questions. Questions are defined in terms of disjunction which is
motivated by certain similarities observed in natural language
examples. As Grice (1975) already pointed out, the natural language
'or' is mostly used to introduce two alternatives of whom the speaker
considers one to be true, but does not know which one. With this
alternative interpretation disjunctions turn out to be inquisitive.
In chapter 2 I introduced the framework of Inquisitive Semantics in
detail. De Inquisitieve Semantiek is tevens uitgerust met een systeem
voor dialoog management dat is ontwikkeld met het doel om
samenhangende dialogen tussen co\"operatieve deelnemers te
modelleren. Dialoogzetten worden aangestuurd door dialoogprincipes die
zijn ingegeven door de volgende regels van de griceaanse pragmatiek.
The language of Inquisitive Semantics is provided with a dialogue
management system that is developed in order to model coherent
dialogues between co-operative agents. The dialogue moves are driven
by the dialogue principles that are motivated by the main lines of
gricean pragmatics.

The core of the dissertation can be found in chapters 3 to 5, where I
propose a new, context-bases analysis of focus, applying and extending
the system of Inquisitive Semantics. In order to provide an adequate
theory of focusing I provide an analysis for the phenomena of
question-answer relation: the notion of congruence, exhaustification
of answers; and the focus sensitive particle 'only'. The kernel of my
analysis is the claim that the focus structure of the utterance leads
to a special theme/rheme division. The theme of a focused sentence is
an inherent question, that is determined by the placement of focus. I
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 theme of the focused utterance has a strong link to the
actual context, that is determined by the focus requirement as the
theme of a focused sentence must be compliant to the actual common
ground. I also introduced the recent issues of the exhaustive
interpretation of answers. I provided an analysis where the exhaustive
interpretation of a focused answer is due to a pragmatic inference
that is technically carried out by the secondary uptake of the
utterance, the pragmatic operation of 'exhaustification'. My main
claim is that the focus sensitive particle 'only' introduces a special
issue in addition which corresponds to the expectation of more
individuals having the given property (Zeevat 2008; Balogh 2005). I
capture this idea by the division of an 'only'-sentence that leads to
a theme as the question 'are there more?', and the rheme as the
exhaustive statement. In my proposal 'only' corresponds to the
semantic operator that takes the theme/ rheme division of the focused
utterance it modifies.

After having proposed my approach of focus, in chapter 6 I
investigated the interpretation of Hungarian structural focus with
special attention to the a well known phenomenon that this structural
focus is interpreted exhaustively. The pre-verbal focus position in
Hungarian is widely claimed to be associated with an
exhaustive/identificational semantic interpretation. I suggest a
different analysis, and claim that we can apply the analysis of the
exhaustive interpretation via a pragmatic inference similarly as
proposed for English focusing. Nevertheless, there is a crucial
difference that in Hungarian, in case focusing is not triggered by
other linguistic devices (contrastive topic, stress avoiding verb
etc.) then focusing signals an obligatory implicature of exclusiveness
that cannot be cancelled.


Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2009-07
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2009
Subjects: Language
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2077

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