LINGUIST List 14.2299

Mon Sep 1 2003

Diss: Syntax: Brunetti: 'A Unification of Focus'

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>


  1. lisa.brunetti, A Unification of Focus

Message 1: A Unification of Focus

Date: Mon, 01 Sep 2003 05:04:53 +0000
From: lisa.brunetti <>
Subject: A Unification of Focus

Institution: University of Florence
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003

Author: Lisa Brunetti 

Dissertation Title: A Unification of Focus

Linguistic Field: Syntax 

Subject Language: Italian (code: ITN )

Dissertation Director 1: Maria Rita Manzini

Dissertation Abstract: 

This dissertation investigates how Focus is encoded in the grammar,
and claims that Focus is a single phenomenon. A focused item in
Italian can occupy either a low position or a position in the left
periphery in the clause. The analysis of the characteristics
associated with these two positions lead to two different approaches
to Focus in the literature: a 'prosody-based' approach (Cinque 1993,
Reinhart 1995) and a 'syntax-based' approach (Rizzi 1997, Belletti
2002). The two approaches are critically reviewed in the first part of
the thesis, in the light of minimalist assumptions (Chomsky 1995,
2000, 2001).

In the central and main part of the thesis it is argued that the two
Focus positions in Italian host the same grammatical object. In other
words, the strong claim is made that Focus is a single phenomenon,
both at the interfaces and in the syntax. From an interpretive point
of view, I show contra Kiss (1998) that Focus in Italian does not
display different semantic characteristics when it is in the left
periphery and when it is in situ: it always expresses new,
non-presupposed information. Although it can express contrast, I argue
that this property is not semantic, but it is an effect of the
discourse context in which Focus occurs. From a prosodic point of
view, I show that stress on a focused phrase always follows the
Nuclear Stress Rule as revised in Cinque (1993) wherever the focused
phrase is placed in the sentence and whatever interpretation
'contrastive or not' it has.

Being Focus uniform at the interfaces, it is predicted that its syntax
is also uniform. This idea contrasts with the fact that Focus movement
in Italian can apparently occur only when Focus is contrastive: Focus
on the left cannot answer a wh-question. I argue that this restriction
is not due to Focus, but to contextual constraints on ellipsis. A
focused element can always move to the left periphery; however, in a
wh-Question-Answer pair, the movement is generally followed by
ellipsis of the rest of the sentence, so it is not overtly visible. In
contrastive pairs, ellipsis does not always follow, so Focus movement
to the left can be overtly visible. This fact gives the impression
that only contrastive Focus moves.

At the end of the thesis the two approaches discussed in the first
part are reconsidered. The prosody-based approach cannot explain the
data without postulating the existence of two different Foci, so it is
rejected. The syntax-based approach is compatible with a single Focus,
but it is theoretically problematic given minimalist assumptions. An
alternative account is then suggested, namely that the intonational
contour that always accompanies Focus represents a lexical morpheme,
filling a Complementizer position. The focused phrase is the
complement of such a morpheme.
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