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Topic to be discussed at the second meeting .

Responsible supervisor(s):

Local information structure: Focus in conditionals and appositives

The standard analyses for focus involve simple sentences without further embedding as in (1). As discussed in Topic I, things get already more complicated if we only look inside DPs like in (2).

(1) John only introduced BILL to John. (2) John only intrudeced the DUTCH professor to one of the GERMAN professors.

However, arguably, such examples can be reduced to fairly simple QUD-s such as:

  • a. Which professor did John introduce to one of the German professors?
  • b. Which professor did John introduce to whom?
  • c. …

Things get much more complicated with foci in conditionals and appositives:

(3) If only JOHN is going to be kissed by Mary, I will go home.

(4) John, who only kissed MARY twice, will be there.

(5) If John, who only kissed MARY twice, is going to be kissed by Mary, I will go home.

Such constructions involve some modeling problems:

A) Embedded contexts and the QUD

a. Do foci in such contexts also signal the answer to a question? b. Is that the question under discussion or some other question? c. How does that question relate to the question under discussion? Roberts et al 2010 d. Probably we need some notion of “local” questions for these constructions. Beaver & Coppock 2011/12

B) Embedded contexts and discourse structure

If we think of discourse as organized in terms of a stack of questions under discussion, how can we integrate questions answered by foci in conditionals and appositives into a coherent discourse?


a. Conditionals don't seem to answer questions. Rawlins, and many others.

i) What is their discourse function?
ii) How do they relate to quantificational structures, e.g. the universal quantifier.
iii) In fact, sometimes they do answer question, as in (5')
(5') A: Under which conditions do you kiss Mary?
     B: I only kiss her, if she tells me that she loves me.

b. appositives seem to be independent of the QUD (not at issue) Roberts et al 2010, Potts 2005 c. nevertheless we get the full range of focus phenomena including accents and focus sensitive particles in both types of environments.

C) How local are "local questions"?

a. We get contrasts between conditions as in (6). Apparently there must be some way in which the “local” questions are not so local, i.e. the foci in each of them can somehow interact with the other one. Prosody seems to indicate that we need a fairly complex discourse structure. (Zeevat 2012)

(6) If JOHN loves Mary, I am happy, but if MAX loves Mary, I am unhappy.

Intuitively, it seems that (6) relates to two questions simultaneously, where Q2 serves to modify Q1 in some sense, as roughly indicated in Q3:

Q1: Under which conditions are you (un)happy? Q2: Who loves Mary Q3: Under which conditions of the form 'x loves Mary' are you (un)happy.

The final paraphrase looks suspiciously close to the semantic analysis of inidrect scope marking by Dayal (??) and Lipták & Zimmermann (2007), to which the analysis of local question phenomena might extend.

General questions

Finally, the bigger questions to be addressed are

(i) How do these observations and data relate to a question-based discourse model?; and (ii) How do they relate to the notion of at-issueness?

Ideas for presentations / issues to be discussed

Empirical questions

  • What kind of contexts license focus accenting in conditionals, appositives, and other embedded environments (relative clauses etc.). Is it possible to reconstruct local QUDs for each of these cases?
  • Do we get instances of local focus marking in non-intonation languages (Chadic, DGS)?
  • Is local focus marking in Hungarian dependent on a focus correlate ('az-CASE') in the matrix clause? What are the patterns?

Modelling questions

  • What is the discourse-semantic function of appositive relative clauses? Are they really non-at issue, or do they rather express answers to additional QUDs that are superimposed on the main QUD?
  • Can the same mechanism be exploited to fuse the local questions of other embedded (focus) domains with the main QUD?
  • Is this the same mechanism that is overtly at work in the interpretation of indirect scope marking (Dayal 200?), which - in Hungarian - is also possible with relative and other embedded adjunct clauses (Lipták & Zimmermann 2007)? Can it be applied to any instance of embedded focus marking in need of a local QUD?
  • What are the alternatives for integrating local questions into the overall discourse/question structure?
  • Could alternatives do the job?

Talks on this topic

  • Talk 1 - Edgar Onea: Adding Potential Questions to the discourse
  • Talk 2 -


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  1. Roberts et al 2010 - SALT paper
  2. Beaver 2012 - Meeting 1 paper
localinfstruc.txt · Last modified: 2012/08/07 09:18 by voneaga