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Focus at the interface: Evidence from Romance and Bantu

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Abstract

Word order variation in Romance and Bantu has been related to information structure portrayed in the different discourse functions of the sentential elements involved. Based on the distribution of new information focus in Romance and Bantu, this paper argues that discourse functions need not be directly encoded in syntax. The position defended here is that syntax generates all possible structures which are filtered out at the interface with the phonological component. The prosodic phrasing of these structures is what indicates focused constituents occurring in positions of prominence. The paramount significance of prosody for the determination of focus is particularly illustrated in those cases both in Romance and Bantu where, for syntactic reasons, change in word order is restricted but prosodic effects still accompany focus. The proposed interface approach to focus accounts for the variation in focus strategies and the intimate relation of focus to prosody which is attested in Romance and Bantu. Crucially, the evidence from Romance and Bantu is complementary. The Romance data provide the necessary syntactic evidence for not positing a designated focus position in the syntactic hierarchy for focus, whereas the Bantu data show that prosodic effects may emerge in varying ways, providing evidence for not linking a single syntactic position to a given prosodic effect. The paper in this respect highlights the similarities and differences of the role of prosody in indicating focus in stress versus tone languages.

References

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