Speaker Series: Roger Schwarzschild (MIT)

Nov 11, 2016 at - | Fisher-Bennett Hall, Room 401 (3340 Walnut Street)

Here is the abstract for Roger Schwarzschild's Speaker Series talk:


Givenness limits focus-prominence


The occurrence of “vegetables” in (1)B below is an example of a ‘second occurrence focus’ (sof).  It attracts the theorist’s attention because, while it is interpreted as associated with the focus-sensitive operator only, it does not display the characteristic prominence of an associated focus.


(1)  A: Everyone already knew that Mary only eats vegetables.

       B: If even paul knew that Mary only eats vegetables, then he should have suggested a different restaurant.             [from Beaver and Velleman 2011]


There are two intuitions that animate theories of second occurrence focus:


Competition:  two focus expressions compete for prominence and the loser is reduced.  Theories differ on what conditions govern the competition.

In (1)B, “vegetables” competes with “Paul” for focus prominence.


Givenness: If an expression is given (previously mentioned or implied information) it has reduced prominence even if it is focused. 

In (1)B, “vegetables” is given, having been mentioned in (1)A.


As Selkirk(2008) points out, there are examples in which a focus has reduced prominence but in which there is arguably no other competing focus in the sentence.  This favors a pure givenness account.  I will develop such an account using the givenness theory of Schwarzschild(1999) as a starting point.  In this respect I follow the lead of Beaver and Velleman, even though they ultimately propose a competition account.  There is now a body of experimental and theoretical work showing that focus and givenness are not reducible one to the other.  This motivates logical forms that are annotated for both.  The net result are logical forms that are compatible with the view of sof found in Féry and Ishihara(2009) in which the phonetic implementation is local (expressions are not compared) but it is also gradient (focus boosts, givenness weakens) and additive, which seems hard to model in terms of prosodic structure configurations.


Within the literature on sof, there is disagreement about whether or not it is possible to pronounce (2)A in a way that allows it to fit in the question context (2)Q.

(2)  Q. What food will Renee only eat in paris?

A.  She’ll only eat crepes in Paris.


Building on the pure givenness account of sof, I’ll offer a proposal about what goes wrong in (2) as well as how it differs from unproblematic examples with a similar intonational profile (Büring 2016:§7.3.3). 


For those who are unfamiliar with this domain and have some time, I’d recommend looking at:


Beaver, D. and D. Velleman (2011) “The Communicative Significance of Primary and Secondary Accents,” Lingua 121:1671-1692