Information on Focus in Hungarian
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I am attempting to create an aural acceptability judgment task for a
psycholinguistic experiment with Hungarian/English bilinguals, and I am
interested in testing their judgments of post-verbal information focus in
Hungarian. However, I have encountered some difficulties, and I have
two questions I have not been able to resolve which I was hoping
someone might be able to help with.
Hungarian is well known for having a pre-verbal Focus position that
expresses exhaustive identification. It is also claimed that Hungarian
has a post-verbal information focus, which is not exhaustive; it presents
new information and might be felicitous when the information focus
gives one of several possible answers (É. Kiss 1998, 2008; Horvath
2005, 2007; Kenesei 2006; Roberts 1998), as in example (1) (from É
(1) a. Hol jártál a nyáron?
where went.you the summer
‘Where did you go in the summer?’
b. Jártam OLASZORSZÁGBAN.
‘I went to Italy [among other places].’
Question 1: Is there any experimental or other quantitative evidence on
Hungarian post-verbal information focus?
Most of the literature draws on the authors’ judgments, and Roberts
(1998) points out that there is disagreement among Hungarian linguists
on whether and/or in what contexts post-verbal information focus is
possible in Hungarian. Since there is disagreement in the literature,
additional evidence using experimental or other quantitative methods
would be very helpful, but I haven’t been able to find any.
Question 2: Does Hungarian post-verbal information focus receive
main sentence stress, and, if so, what is its phonetic realization?
É. Kiss (1998, 2008) claims that post-verbal information focus receives
a “primary stress” but that this stress is weaker than the stress on the
leftmost constituent in the predicate (usually the verb). In other words,
for É. Kiss, sentences with information focus are similar to what has
traditionally been called the “neutral” sentence intonation (Hunyadi
2002; Kálmán et al. 1986; Kenesei & Vogel 1989; Vogel & Kenesei
1990): each prosodic word gets a pitch accent, with the leftmost
prosodic word in the predicate most prominent, which is potentially
compatible with Varga’s (1983, 2002) view that there is no main
sentence stress but rather a series of equally prominent accents.
On the other hand, Roberts (1998) and Horvath (2007) claim that post-
verbal information focus receives the main or nuclear stress of the
clause, which is presumably different than the “neutral” stress pattern.
However, I have been unable to find a clear description of the phonetic
realization of this main stress.
I have so far been unable to determine whether the placement of stress
in these sentences is still an open question or whether a consensus
has developed around one of these two views, and I would appreciate
any insights that anyone has. Also, if it is the case that the post-verbal
information focus gets main sentence stress, I am not sure what the
phonetic realization of that stress would be (that is, what makes it the
main stress, beyond just bearing a pitch accent as it would in a
I would very much appreciate any leads you could give me, and I thank
you in advance for your help.
É. Kiss, Katalin. 1998. Identificational focus versus information focus.
Language 74(2): 245-273.
É. Kiss, Katalin. 2008. Structural focus and exhaustivity. MS.
Horvath, Julia. 2005. Is “focus movement” driven by stress? In C. Piñón
& P. Siptár (eds.) Approaches to Hungarian (pp. 131-158). Budapest:
Horvath, Julia. 2007. Separating “focus movement” from focus. In S.
Karimi, V. Samiian and W. Wilkins (eds.), Phrasal and Clausal
Architecture (pp. 108-145). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Hunyadi, László. 2002. Hungarian sentence prosody and Universal
Grammar. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Kálmán, László, Prószéky, Gábor, Nádasdy, Ádam, & Kálmán C.
György. 1986. Hocus, focus, and verb types in Hungarian infinitive
constructions. In W. Abraham & S. de Meij (eds.), Topic, focus and
configurationality: Papers from the 6th Groningen Grammar Talks (pp.
129-142.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Kenesei, István. 2006. Focus as identification. In V. Molnár & S. Winkler
(eds.), The architecture of focus. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 137-
Kenesei, István, & Vogel, Irene. 1989. Prosodic phonology in
Hungarian. Acta Linguistica Hungarica 39(1-4): 149-193.
Roberts, Craige. 1998. Focus, the flow of information, and universal
grammar. In P. Culicover & L. McNally (eds.), The limits of syntax (pp.
109-160). San Diego: Academic Press.
Varga, László. 1983. Hungarian sentence prosody: An outline. Folia
Linguistica, 17: 117– 51.
Varga, László. 2002. Intonation and stress: Evidence from Hungarian.
Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Vogel, Irene. & Kenesei, István. 1990. Syntax and semantics in
phonology. In D. Zec & S. Inkelas (eds.), The phonology-syntax
connection (pp. 339-363). Chicago: U Chicago Press.
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