Focus assignment in English specificational and predicative clauses: Intonation as a cue to information structure?

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Abstract

Studies of types of copular clauses assume that specificational and predicative clauses can be contrasted by their different information foci, as reflected in patterns of intonational prominence. This paper investigates that assumption by looking at the prosodic realisation of 600 specificational clauses with variable noun phrase (NP) subjects and 600 predicative clauses with predicative NP complements. A study of the utterances’ tonality, tonicity, relative pitch and intensity reveals that the two copular types cannot readily be contrasted by a mere background-focus dichotomy. While predicative clauses evince the expected prominence pattern with the focus on the description, specificational clauses give salience to their two arguments. Therefore, I propose that the real difference between specificational and predicative clauses most frequently concerns the foregrounding or backgrounding of the semantically more general NP, i.e., the variable and what I propose to call the ‘describee’, respectively. This I explain in terms of the different communicative dynamism of the variable vs. describee and of the specificational and predicative clause types in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-241
Number of pages20
JournalActa Linguistica Hafniensia
Volume51
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019

Keywords

  • English
  • communicative dynamism
  • information structure
  • prosody
  • specification/predication

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