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Contrastive topics and distributed foci as instances of sub-informativity

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Abstract

This programmatic study offers a comparison of the lexical, syntactic and prosodic devices used in English and German to encode the information structural category of ‘sub-informativity’, which subsumes occurrences of contrastive topics and of distributed (multiple) foci. Sentences are called ‘sub-informative’ if they answer the current ‘question under discussion’ only partially. Two major types of sub-informativity are distinguished, (i) focus-related sub-informativity (distributed foci) and (ii) topic-related sub-informativity. Topic-related sub-informativity is further sub-categorized according to the parameter ‘context-changing’ vs. ‘context-preserving’. While no major differences between English and German can be identified in the lexical or syntactic marking of sub-informativity, there seems to be a relatively clear contrast in the domain of prosodic marking: While German has a contour specialized for ‘context-changing (topic-related) sub-informativity’ (the ‘root contour’), English has no such specialized tune and uses the functionally very general fall-rise contour in most of the contexts under discussion. In addition to providing a comparative survey of the domain under investigation, the chapter is intended as a case study dealing with central challenges of contrastive information structure analysis, e.g. the question of how comparability can be established and what type of generalization should be aimed at.

References

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