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

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:

* 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

* 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
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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