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  • Focus projection and prosodic prominence in nested foci*
  • Caroline Féry and Vieri Samek-Lodovici

1. Introduction

What is the relation between focus and pitch accents? The studies of Selkirk (1995) and to a lesser extent Schwarzschild (1999) view pitch accents and focus as directly related to each other via an intermediate distribution of abstract F-marks which link to pitch accents on one end and to the discourse status of syntactic constituents on the other. In this discussion note we argue for the opposite view, showing that pitch accents are unrelated to F-marks and that instead their distribution follows entirely from the interaction between the constraints that govern the prosodic organization of the clause and the constraints Stress-Focus and Destress-Given that govern the prosodic expression of discourse status.

As we show in §2, identifying pitch accents with F-marks is not possible due to the inescapable cases of pitch accents lacking corresponding F-marks and of F-marks lacking corresponding pitch accents. This result undermines the most appealing aspect of Selkirk’s and Schwarzschild’s analyses—namely the potential for deriving the prosodic expression of focused and given constituents directly from their F-marking—and makes the constraints governing the prosodic expression of discourse status indispensable.

The relation between F-marks and pitch accents is also called into question by data involving nested foci such as ‘farmer’ sentences (Rooth 1992; see 19) and ‘Superman’ sentences (Neeleman & Szendrői 2004; see 36), as well as sentences involving right-node-raising constructions. In all of these cases F-marking cannot distinguish the material inside the innermost focus from the equally focused material immediately outside it and therefore cannot explain the pitch accent’s preference for the innermost focus.

Both problems disappear once we maintain that pitch accents express the heads of prosodic constituents (Selkirk 1995, Ladd 1996) and that they are unrelated to F-marks. Their distribution then follows straightforwardly from the interaction of Stress-Focus and Destress-Given with the constraints governing the position of prosodic heads. The same interaction also derives the principles of prosodic economy proposed by Neeleman and Szendrői (2004) and the prosodic consequences of Schwarzschild’s AvoidF constraint. The analysis also contributes to the growing evidence supporting a model of the prosodic expression of focus based on optimality theory (Prince & Smolensky 1993), including among others Truckenbrodt 1995, 1999, Selkirk 2000, Büring 2001, 2003, Szendrői 2001, Büring & Gutíerrez-Bravo 2002, Dehé 2004, Samek-Lodovici 2005, and Féry 2006.

We start with a review of Selkirk 1995 and Schwarzschild 1999 and the reasons why the pitch-accent/F-mark identity cannot be maintained despite its conceptual appeal. We then introduce the prosodic and discourse-status constraints ultimately responsible for the tonal contour of focused sentences and examine their optimality-theoretic interaction with regard to farmer and Superman sentences and right-node-raising constructions. This examination allows the consequences of Destress-Given to be studied in some detail. [End Page 131]

2. The limits of f-marking

Selkirk’s (1995) F-projection model is appealing in its aim to determine at once both the focus marking of a clause and the corresponding prosodic contour. The basic F-rule in 1 ensures that a pitch accent is identified with an F-mark. Once assigned in the form of pitch accents, F-marks are allowed to percolate upward in the tree structure according to the F-projection rules, formulated in 2, eventually providing the tree-structure representation with an F-marking that identifies which constituents count as focused in accord with the principle in 3 (adapted from Selkirk 1995: 555).

(1) Basic f-rule: An accented word is F-marked.

(2) F-projection rules:

a. F-marking of the head of a phrase licenses the F-marking of the phrase.

b. F-marking of an internal argument of a head licenses the F-marking of the head.

(3) Focus: A focus-marked node is an F-marked constituent not dominated by any other F-marked constituent.

Selkirk’s system has come under criticism for its inability...


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pp. 131-150
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