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LINGUIST List 24.2602

Wed Jun 26 2013

Review: Syntax; Semantics: Neeleman & Vermeulen (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 14-May-2013
From: Timothy Gupton <gupton1uga.edu>
Subject: The Syntax of Topic, Focus, and Contrast
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-4912.html

EDITOR: Ad Neeleman
EDITOR: Reiko Vermeulen
TITLE: The Syntax of Topic, Focus, and Contrast
SUBTITLE: An Interface-based Approach
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Generative Grammar [SGG] 113
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Timothy Gupton, University of Georgia

Ad Neeleman and Reiko Vermeulen open this edited volume with a chapter
entitled “The Syntactic Expression of Information Structure”, which
establishes one crucial premise: that the syntax-information structure and
syntax-semantics interface account proposed in this volume is at odds with the
approach taken by researchers such as Luigi Rizzi and colleagues working in
the cartographic program. Proponents of the cartographic program argue that
information pertinent to discourse is directly encoded in dedicated functional
syntactic projections with accompanying (lexical) features. The initial
justification for such an approach is based in large part on observations by
Abels (2012), who shows that the relative order of topics and foci in Italian
(which formed the initial basis for both Rizzi’s (1997) extension of the left
periphery and the cartographic program) may be independently derived as an
effect of Relativized Minimality (e.g. Starke 2001). Therefore, locality of
movement asymmetries between so-called ‘topical’ and ‘focal’ constituents
allows us to greatly simplify the number of left-peripheral functional
projections; however, the authors note that despite such simplification, we
may not do away with some sort of hierarchy of discourse/semantic notions
altogether. Their goal is to establish via data from English, Russian, Dutch,
Japanese, and Korean that word order restrictions operative in the mapping of
information structure to the syntax do not require a predetermined hierarchy
of functional projections nor associated features. They narrow their attention
to three particular primitives of discourse/information structure in this
volume: topic, focus, and contrast. The notions [topic/focus] combines with
[±contrast] to net Aboutness topics [topic, -contrast], (new) Information
focus [focus, -contrast], Contrastive topics [topic, +contrast], and
Contrastive focus [focus, +contrast].

The remainder of the introduction clarifies the difference between the latter
two notions, showing that although both may exhibit movement and take scope
over other elements (unlike their non-contrastive counterparts), they differ
in that “focus is a notion relevant to propositions, whereas topic is (a)
notion relevant to utterances” (p. 21, from Tomioka 2010). For a contrastive
topic then, the relevant alternative is an utterance (one of which is claimed
to be false); for a contrastive focus, the relevant alternative is a
proposition (one of which is claimed to be false). In what remains of the
opening chapter, they examine A’-scrambling of contrastive topics and
contrastive foci in Dutch. They show that when these constituents remain in
situ, they may appear in any order because they do not mark scope, which is
proposed to be the domain of contrast (DoC) of these constituents; under
A’-scrambling, however, both are quantificational in that they mark scope, and
thus a DoC. A’-scrambling then creates a scope-freezing effect, by which a
constituent c-commanded by an A’-moved element may not take scope over it.
Relative ordering effects of contrastive topics and foci fall out from
discourse-interpretive facts: a proposition (focus) may fall within an
utterance (topic), but not vice versa. This is what prevents A’-scrambling of
a contrastive focus over a contrastive topic. Additionally, it captures the
relative ordering of topic and focus, as well as the oft-noted observation
that negative quantifiers may not function as topics. The chapter concludes
with an overview of the chapters that follow.

In Chapter Two, “Towards a Unified Encoding of Contrast and Scope”, Ad
Neeleman and Hans van de Koot attempt to reconcile the notion of Domain of
Contrast (DoC), essentially the theory of contrastive scope introduced in
Chapter 1, with the theory of quantifier scope. They develop a proposal for
scope and scope extension, which shares much with Reinhart’s (1983, 1995,
2006) view of Quantifier Raising as scope extension, thus seeking to explain
asymmetries between scope marking via overt movement and scope marking via
covert movement (QR). They propose a Condition on Scope Shift (CSS), by which
no node may inherit two scope indices, and show via examples in Dutch,
English, and German that quantifier scope and contrastive scope both obey the
CSS, which strongly suggests the feasibility of uniting the two theories.
Therefore, in the case of both quantifiers and contrastive elements, if a
constituent (overtly) moves into a scope-marking position over another, the
latter, which is c-commanded by the former, may only escape the scope of the
former via A’-movement, and not via covert, QR-type movement. This lends
further support to the idea that topic and focus ordering is independently
motivated: if a contrastive focus constituent moves into a configuration in
which it c-commands a contrastive topic, the contrastive topic may not escape
the DoC by covert means, thus yielding an uninterpretable configuration for
the information structure.

Chapter Three, “Word order variation and information structure in Japanese and
Korean”, by Reiko Vermeulen, examines discourse-related syntactic variation in Korean
and Japanese, two languages which, despite similarities, display important
differences captured by the three information structure primitives introduced
in Chapter 1. The author shows that both languages have the same rule
operative for [topic], requiring these constituents to appear in
clause-initial position, in order to transparently mark a topic-comment
structure in the syntax. Both languages also have the same rule for
[contrast], which requires A’-scrambling, which as in Dutch, marks scope/DoC.
The two languages diverge with respect to how they handle Contrastive Topics,
which, according to the author, creates a conflict between two rules that
cannot be satisfied simultaneously. In this case, the author proposes that
Japanese opts for the [topic] rule, thus only allowing contrastive topics in
clause-initial position; Korean however, opts for the [contrast] rule, which
explains why contrastive topics in this language may appear in a variety of
clausal positions. This represents a departure from much of the literature on
topics in Korean and Japanese. Nevertheless, this characterization is shown to
be adequate, therefore predicting the same ordering restrictions on
contrastive topics and foci as those in Dutch. Finally, the author examines
the ambiguity of contrastive ‘wa’ phrases in Japanese and contrastive ‘nun’
phrases in Korean, showing that these may be either topics or foci in a given
sentence. Curiously, ‘wa’ and ‘nun’ phrases that are interpreted
(functionally) as contrastive foci do not display the syntactic behavior of
contrastive topics -- facts which lend further support to the thesis advocated
in this volume regarding the status of the primitives [topic], [focus], and

Chapter Four, entitled “Encoding focus and contrast in Russian” by Elena
Titov, further motivates the primitives [focus] and [contrast], each of which
is claimed to be responsible for a particular syntactic effect. In Russian,
contrastive focus constituents as well as new information focus (i.e.
narrow-focus) constituents appear in clause-final position, but only
contrastive focus constituents are allowed to undergo A’-movement further
leftward. Support for this notion is provided for by the reconstruction of
clause-initial contrastive focus elements to a clause-final position.
Therefore, the author proposes that while [focus] is the relevant information
structural feature for clause-final constituents, it is [contrast] that
licenses movement to the left periphery. Notably, the target of A’-movement is
not proposed to be a fixed syntactic position, but rather a strategy for
disambiguating contrastive focus from, e.g., information focus.

In Chapter Five, “Against FP Analyses of Clefts”, Matthew Reeve argues against
an FP (FocusP) analysis of cleft constructions in English and Russian. He
first shows that É. Kiss’s (1998) account of English clefts does not capture
the fact that they bear distinct semantic and syntactic similarities to
specificational copular sentences (e.g. ‘The one that Mary hit was JOHN.’). He
then examines Russian cleft constructions, which ostensibly bear more
similarities to the construction in Hungarian; however based on the
undesirable modifications needed for an F-based account for the Russian
construction, he rejects this possibility. As an alternative unified account,
the author proposes that despite syntactic differences, clefts in Russian and
English may be analyzed as specificational copular sentences that encode
equative semantics. He then provides a number of empirical arguments against
the FP analysis: evidence suggesting that subject pronouns in clefts are not
expletives, similarities between the presuppositional content of clefts and
specificational sentences, the properties of ‘wide-focus clefts’ in Russian,
adjacency conditions on the pronoun and focus constituent in narrow-focus
clefts in Russian, the possibility of focus movement within clefts, the fact
that English clefts behave like extraposed clauses, and obligatory versus
optional contrastivity facts. He concludes that a specificational account of
clefts better captures the above phenomena than an FP account, thus obviating
the need for the functional projection and its associated feature(s) in order
to encode information structure.

In Chapter Six, entitled “Focus movement can be destressing, but it need not
be”, Kriszta Szendrői examines focus movement within the noun phrase and
whether such movement serves to mark the domain of contrast (DoC) as it does
at the clause level. She first examines adjective reordering in English, which
has been argued in the literature to involve focus movement within the DP. She
presents data that lead her to determine that adjective reordering allows for
reconstruction and is a scope-marking (DoC) operation; however, since the
interpretative effect of this movement does not establish focus on the fronted
adjective and does not appear to target a pre-determined position, it does not
constitute movement to FocP. She next examines polydefinite constructions in
Greek, which have also been argued to involve DP-internal focus movement. On
the basis that polydefinite constructions do not display the hallmarks of
A’-movement and do not mark DoC, she proposes that this construction marks
givenness. She then examines the theoretical possibility that
givenness-marking and DoC-marking are two sides of the same coin, as proposed
in Wagner’s (2007, 2012) theory, based on Schwarzschild (1999). Despite the
attractiveness of this proposal, she presents data suggesting that these two
systems (focus/DoC-marking and givenness-marking) need to be distinguished as
separate operations, in the same way that stress strengthening should be
distinguished from destressing.

In “Types of Focus and their Interaction with Negation” (Chapter Seven), Ad
Neeleman and Reiko Vermeulen address what they label “an empirical challenge
to the decompositional approach to contrastive focus, which arises from the
interaction between focus and negation”. The empirical challenge at stake in
this chapter lies in focus-sensitive particles such as ‘only’, ‘even’, and
‘also’, some of which result in unexpected meanings (at the level of focus
semantics) when they interact with negation. Were it the case that contrastive
foci and foci accompanied by focus-sensitive particles uniformly move to FocP,
or uniformly undergo LF-raising, a number of phenomena would go unexplained,
such as the fact that ‘even’ and ‘also’ may appear under the scope of
negation, but may not take scope over it, or that ‘not Y but X’ cannot
LF-raise at all. The authors propose that focus-sensitive particles that
trigger negative alternatives components (i.e. a negative component of
meaning) such as ‘only’ and ‘some’, which also net surprising meanings under
negation (e.g. ‘John did not invite only Pia’, which actually implies that
John invited someone in addition to Pia) are most appropriately treated as
positive polarity items (PPI). Since PPIs cannot be interpreted in the scope
of negation they trigger a non-default mapping of negation.

In Chapter Eight (“Concluding remarks”), Ad Neeleman and Reiko Vermeulen, the
editors of the volume review the data presented in the preceding chapters and
their application to the primitives [topic], [focus], and [contrast]. They
also provide an explanation for why they do not consider the notions ‘old’,
‘given’, or ‘discourse-anaphoric’: primarily, such ‘familiar topics’, which
often refer to the discourse topic at hand, do not involve selection from a
set of alternatives. Additionally, not all given material can be topical,
given that topics cannot contain foci. Furthermore, they provide examples from
Japanese and Dutch that discourse-anaphoric material frequently escapes
generalizations that hold for contrastive and aboutness topics, such as
clausal distribution (initial in Japanese) and the fact that
discourse-anaphoric topics do not resist focus movement across them as other
topics do. They suggest then that such familiar, discourse-anaphoric topics
should be analyzed independently from the topic/focus system. In the second
section of the conclusion, they discuss the conceptual-intentional interface
as the point at which an utterance may be divided into topic-comment or
focus-background, and at which domain of contrast may be more transparently
mapped to interpretation. Although languages differ with respect to the
mapping rules employed, there are many patterns that are predicted to remain
constant. Although the contributions in the volume do not involve the
phonology interface, they do not rule out the PF considerations that may come
to bear as well. They end the chapter with a final treatment of the
cartographical approach showing that the postulation of a ContrastP in
addition to FocusP and TopicP to capture featural decomposition cannot account
for the data presented in this volume and makes inaccurate predictions, not
only when such constituents appear in situ, but also when they appear in the
left periphery.

While all the contributions make notable advances, Chapter 2 stands out in
making less accessible scope readings more transparent -- even unacceptable
ones; however, these stand in contrast to more problematic and (admittedly)
subtler scope judgments, which at times are so subtle that the differences are
practically indistinguishable. Chapter 7 is also remarkable for its detailed
and accessible analysis of the scope of negation; it seems however that the
importance of [contrast] and its role in providing information about (sets of)
alternatives gets lost in the argumentation. If [contrast] marks scope
(presumably overtly in the syntax), it is unclear how this feature influences
non-default mappings of negation with discourse-sensitive particles such as
‘even’ and ‘only’. Chapter 8 is notable in bringing to light a problematic
issue for researchers working with Romance varieties, in which CLLD
constituents may be topical or discourse-anaphoric. While the authors propose
a solution noted for Italian, it is not clear that this is sufficient for
Western Iberian Romance varieties, in which (contrastive) foci may not precede
a CLLD topic, discourse-anaphoric or otherwise.

The volume’s unified approach to address issues related to topic, focus, and
contrast at the interface of syntax with semantics as well as the
discourse/information structure module is refreshing for a number of reasons:
first, all of the contributions speak about similar information structure
concepts with similar terminology and technology -- a welcome departure from
the multiplicity of approaches and definitions found in the literature;
second, the contributions share the common goal of a simplified left
periphery. The former is desirable from a practical perspective if generative
syntacticians wish to speak about interface phenomena from a cross-linguistic
perspective. The latter is desirable from the perspective of explanatory
adequacy, assuming that one of our chief goals remains explaining how one
arrives at a linguistic competence that is largely unconscious. Clearly, one
of the goals of syntactic research is describing the orders attested in
natural language, but at a certain point we have to question the predictive
power afforded us by a proliferation of supposedly lexical features that have
more to do with discourse functions than the lexicon proper. Therefore, this
volume appears to share the goal of a number of other recent proposals (e.g.
López (2009), Kempchinsky (forthcoming)), which aim to simplify the
acquisitional and processing load related to interfaces.

Abels, Klaus. 2012. The Italian left periphery: a view from locality.
Linguistic Inquiry 43(2). 229-254.

É. Kiss, Katalin. 1998. Identificational focus versus information focus.
Language 74. 245-273.

Kempchinsky, Paula. forthcoming. CLLD as a window on the left periphery.
Selected proceedings of the 15th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium. Somerville,
MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

López, Luis. 2009. A derivational syntax for information structure. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Reinhart, Tanya. 1983. Anaphora and semantic interpretation. London: Croom

Reinhart, Tanya. 1995. Interface strategies. Ms., Utrecht University.

Reinhart, Tanya. 2006. Interface strategies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rizzi, Luigi. 1997. On the fine structure of the left periphery. In Belletti,
Adriana & Luigi Rizzi (eds.), Elements of Grammar, 281-337. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Schwarzschild, Roger. 1999. Givenness, avoid F and other constraints on the
placement of accent. Natural Language Semantics 7. 141-177.

Starke, Michal. 2001. More dissolves into merge: a theory of locality. Genève:
Université de Genève dissertation.

Tomioka, Satoshi. 2010. Contrastive topics operate on speech acts. In
Zimmerman, Malte and Caroline Féry (eds.), Information structure: theoretical,
typological, and experimental perspectives, 115-138. Oxford: Oxford University

Wagner, Michael. 2007. Givenness and locality. In Abdurrahman, Muhammad, Anisa
Schardl, and Martin Walkow (eds.), Proceedings of the North East Linguistic
Society 38, 415-428. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts GLSA.

Wagner, Michael. 2012. Focus and givenness: a unified approach. In Kučerová,
Ivona and Ad Neeleman, Contrasts and positions in information structure,
102-147. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

Timothy Gupton is Assistant Professor of syntax in the Department of Romance
Languages at University of Georgia. His primary research interest is
theoretical syntax, in particular the syntax of subjects, clitics and
left-peripheral elements and their interaction with information structure. I
additionally employ a variety of experimental methods based primarily on
second language acquisition research in order to elicit quantitative
psycholinguistic grammar judgment data. My current research interests include
the prosody of contrast and CLLD, the L2 acquisition of
discourse-configurational word order in Spanish, and subject expression and
reference in Caribbean Spanish.
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