Focus marking in Aghem

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Following up on previous work by Anderson (1979), Watters (1979) and myself (Hyman 1979a, b, 1985), this paper presents an overview and analysis of focus marking in Aghem, a Grassfields Bantu language spoken in Cameroon. It is shown that focus marking pervades virtually every aspect of the grammar. While Aghem has a basic s aux v o x word order, an xp may be focused by positioning it immediately after the verb, or defocused by placing it between the auxiliary and the verb. As part of a system of “auxiliary focus” (Hyman & ­Watters 1984), certain tenses condition different allomorphs depending on whether the truth value of a proposition is included within the focus or not. The most unusual property of Aghem, however, concerns the contrast between so-called A- vs. B-forms within the noun phrase, which also bears an important relation to the focus system. I show that A forms are those which allow a null determiner, while B forms are those which do not. Although (semantic) focus is implicated in determining which form of the noun phrase is found in what context, it is really a syntactic generalization having to do with heads and their governees that accounts for the full range of facts.


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