|Title:||The Realization and Function of Focus in Spoken English||Add Dissertation|
|Author:||Jocelyn Cohan||Update Dissertation|
|Email:||click here to access email|
|Institution:||University of Texas at Austin, Department of Linguistics|
|Abstract:||Theories of semantic focus - like many linguistic theories - have been developed primarily on the basis of constructed examples, based on the intuitions of linguists. Despite the fact that the main realization of focus in English is through prosodic prominence, very little research has systematically treated the occurrence of focus in natural speech. The current work contributes to the understanding of focus by examining the occurrence of focus in spontaneous spoken discourse. While many previous observations are supported by this corpus research, clear counterexamples to some of them also occur.
In particular, focus data from natural speech is problematic for claims that connect new discourse status and focus. The data in the corpus better support the notion that focus signals the existence of alternatives - either in the discourse or in the mind of the speaker. Observed differences in the semantic properties of focus can be attributed to the nature of the alternatives of the focus and the focus constituent; they need not be attributed to fundamentally different types of focus.
The current work also provides evidence that focus should not be equated with pitch accent: focus is a discourse semantic phenomenon and pitch accent a phonological one. While the primary pitch accents of intonation constituents typically signal focus, they do not always do so; secondary accents, on the other hand do not typically signal focus, although they may serve other related communicative functions. The assumptions and conclusions around this issue were confirmed in an experiment. The experimental results indicate that the primary sentence accent plays the most important role as a marker of focus, and that there is substantial interaction between phonological and discourse-semantic constraints on the placement of pitch accent.
Focus involves many aspects of language: syntax, semantics, phonology, pragmatics, and discourse structure, and the research of this work draws from all of these areas. Focus is also of interest to researchers in other fields concerned with cognition, not only linguistics. The present work thus attempts to present discussion in a manner that is accessible to readers from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible.