LINGUIST List 11.706

Wed Mar 29 2000

Disc: Focus

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Christopher Bader, Re: 11.667, Disc: New: Focus

Message 1: Re: 11.667, Disc: New: Focus

Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 21:25:21 -0500
From: Christopher Bader <cbaderMIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: 11.667, Disc: New: Focus

I was interested by Fritz Newmeyer's post. My view of focus takes
Schwarzschild (1999) as its starting point, that is, focus does not have
a meaning; it merely creates a variable in a given constituent. It normally
instantiates this variable, too. But conceivably, null focus could exist
that is merely a variable that would have to be bound in some default way,
for example existentially. That is, I would guess that there is a language
with an exchange like:

Q: Did anyone break the dish?
A: Broke.

with the reading "[Someone] broke [it]"

It may seem strange to call this focus, but in my mind existential
quantification always creates focus.

Does anyone know of a language where this reading of this construction
exists? (Obviously a null pronominal reading like "[He] broke [it]" is
different, as is "[It] broke".)

I was also interested by Alex Monaghan's post. I differ with his
interpretation of:

>Q: Who broke the dish?
>A: Who broke the dish?
>with broad focus and the same WH-question contour in both cases, but an ironic
>or exasperated tone in the second, the intended interpretation being something
>like "work it out for yourself" or "that's a stupid question" or even "who
>breaks everything around here?"
>it seems, then, that in the absence of any particular narrow focus, even when
>all the elements of the message are clearly "given", we revert to broad focus
>and rely on the listener's knowledge of "givenness" to produce an appropriate

On the contrary, an exchange like this to my mind is a reductio ad absurdum
of the notion that every sentence must have a focus.

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