The prosody of specification: Discourse intonational cues to setting up a variable

Wout Van Praet, Gerard O'Grady

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While much research exists on specificational clauses, this paper is the first to systematically use real corpus examples to examine the meaning potential of prosody in signalling informational value in specificational clauses. Carefully distinguishing between two senses of information structure – the relational and the referential – we show that the interplay of prosody and specificational clause, reversed and non-reversed, is far from random. In the majority of non-reversed clauses, we found that the value and variable were realised in different tone units. Thus, claims that the value will receive the focal accent were found to be overly simplistic. Instead, where the variable and value were realised across different tone units the prosodic choice was motivated by the variable’s discourse status and relative unpredictability. Rising tones presented the value as non-exhaustive, allowing for multiple values for a single variable. This re-enforced the projected lack of epistemic certainty. As expected, reversed specificationals were found to be produced mostly as single tone units; contrary to expectation, their focal accent was often on the variable. This, we noted, was likely due to the high incidence of demonstrative values in subject position. To conclude, our innovative approach demonstrates the importance of examining the interplay between syntax, discourse and prosody in explicating the meaning potential of constructions such as specificational clauses.
langue originaleAnglais
Pages (de - à)87-100
Nombre de pages14
journalJournal of Pragmatics
Les DOIs
Etat de la publicationPublié - 1 oct. 2018

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