Volume 40, Issue 3
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes


Based on data from a range of geographically and genealogically diverse African languages this article describes a little recognized strategy for expressing focus. It is based on marking all material of an utterance as background except for the single focus constituent. This kind of “maximal backgrounding” thus renders focus without overt focus marking, called accordingly “indirect focalization”. It is argued that the recognition of this strategy has several repercussions for the general modeling of focus, and information structure in general.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Aboh, Enoch O
    2006 When verbal predicates go fronting. In I. Fiedler & A. Schwarz (eds.), Papers on information structure in African languages (ZAS Papers in Linguistics 46), 21–48. Berlin: Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Typologie und Universalienforschung.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Anyanwu, Rose-Juliet & Abdourahmane Diallo
    2005 Rhythmic units and stress: Word accent mobility in Fula. In Rose-Juliet Anyanwu (ed.), Tone systems in African languages (Frankfurter Afrikanistische Blätter 17), 65–89. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Apel, Viktoria
    2012 Term focus in Fulfulde: Arguments for a grammaticalization of former cleft constructions. Paper presented at the 20 . Afrikanistentag, Köln, 29 May - 2 June 2012.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Arnott, David W
    1970The nominal and verbal systems of Fula. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Banfield, Alexander W. & John L. Macintyre
    1915A grammar of the Nupe language, together with a vocabulary. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Bao, Mingzhen
    2012 Prosody of focus among information structures in Pulaar. Afrikanistik Online2012. www.afrikanistik-aegyptologie-online.de/archiv/2012/3528/ (Accessed20 Feb 2016.)
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Beacham, Charles G
    1991Learning Yom: A Voltaic language of the Atacora Province (The Republic of Benin, West Africa). Charlotte, North Carolina: SIL USA.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Bearth, Thomas
    1993 Satztyp und Situation in einigen Sprachen Westafrikas. In Wilhelm J.G. Möhlig , Siegmund Brauner & Herrmann Jungraithmayr (eds.), Beiträge zur afrikanischen Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft (IX. Afrikanistentag, Leipzig, September, 24-26, 1992), 91–104. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. 1999 The contribution of African linguistics towards a general theory of focus: Update and critical review. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics20(2). 121–156. doi: 10.1515/jall.1999.20.2.121
    https://doi.org/10.1515/jall.1999.20.2.121 [Google Scholar]
  10. Bodomo, Adams B
    2000Dàgáárè. Languages of the World, Materials 165. München/ Newcastle: LINCOM Europa.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Büring, Daniel
    2010 Towards a typology of focus realization. In Malte Zimmermann & Caroline Féry (eds.), Information structure: Theoretical, typological and experimental perspectives, 177–205. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Creissels, Denis et al.
    2008 Africa as a morphosyntactic area. In Bernd Heine & Derek Nurse (eds.), A linguistic geography of Africa, 86–150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Dik, Simon C
    1997 The theory of functional grammar, part 1: The structure of the clause, Kees Hengeveld (ed.), Berlin/ New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  14. Ellison, R.E
    1937An English-Kanuri sentence book. London: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Evans, Nicholas D
    2007 Insubordination and its uses. In Irina Nikolaeva (ed.), Finiteness: Theoretical and empirical foundations, 366–431. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Féry, Caroline
    2013 Focus as prosodic alignment. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory31. 683–734. doi: 10.1007/s11049‑013‑9195‑7
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-013-9195-7 [Google Scholar]
  17. Fiedler, Ines
    2006 Focus expressions in Yom. Gur Papers7. 112–121.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. 2014 Conjoint and disjoint verb forms in Gur? Evidence from Yom. Unpublished manuscript.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Fiedler, Ines & Anne Schwarz
    2005 Out-of-focus encoding in Gur and Kwa. In Stefanie Dipper , Michael Götze & Manfred Stede (eds.), Approaches and findings in oral, written and gestural language (Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure 3), 111–142. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. (eds.) 2006Papers on information structure in African languages (ZAS Papers in Linguistics 46). Berlin: Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Typologie und Universalienforschung.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. (eds.) 2010The expression of information structure: A documentation of its diversity across Africa (Typological Studies in Language 91). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.91
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.91 [Google Scholar]
  22. Fiedler, Ines et al.
    2010 Subject focus in West African languages. In Malte Zimmermann & Caroline Féry (eds.), Information structure: Theoretical, typological and experimental perspectives, 234–257. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Frajzyngier, Zygmunt
    2004 Tense and aspect as coding means for information structure: A potential areal feature. Journal of West African Languages30(2): 53–67.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Gajdos, Martina
    2004Fulfulde: Lehrbuch einer westafrikanischen Sprache. Wien: Edition Praesens.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. George, Isaac
    1971 The á-construction in Nupe: Perfective, stative, causative, or instrumental. In Chin-Wu Kim & Herbert Stahlke (eds.), Papers in African linguistics, 81–100. Edmonton/ Champaign: Linguistic Research, Inc.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Gimba, A. Maina
    2005 On the functions of ‘ye’ in Bole. Paper presented at the International Conference on “Focus in African Languages” , Berlin, 6-8 October 2005.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Givón, Talmy
    1975 Focus and the scope of assertion: Some Bantu evidence. Studies in African Linguistics6(2). 185–205.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Good, Jeff
    2010 Topic and focus fields in Naki. In I. Fiedler & A. Schwarz (eds.), The expression of information structure: A documentation of its diversity across Africa (Typological Studies in Language 91), 35–67. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.91.02goo
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.91.02goo [Google Scholar]
  29. Grubic, Mira & Malte Zimmermann
    2011 Conventional and free association with focus in Ngamo (West Chadic). In Ingo Reich et al. (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn & Bedeutung15, 291–305. Saarbrücken: Saarland University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Güldemann, Tom
    1996Verbalmorphologie und Nebenprädikationen im Bantu: Eine Studie zur funktional motivierten Genese eines konjugationalen Subsystems. Bochum-Essener Beiträge zur Sprachwandelforschung 27. Bochum: Universitätsverlag Dr. N. Brockmeyer.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. 2003 Present progressive vis-à-vis predication focus in Bantu: A verbal category between semantics and pragmatics. Studies in Language27(2). 323–360. doi: 10.1075/sl.27.2.05gul
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sl.27.2.05gul [Google Scholar]
  32. 2010 The relation between focus and theticity in the Tuu family. In I. Fiedler & A. Schwarz (eds.), The expression of information structure: A documentation of its diversity across Africa (Typological Studies in Language 91), 69–93. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.91.03gul
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.91.03gul [Google Scholar]
  33. . in preparation. Predicate clefts, verb doubling, and co.: Towards a typology of dissected predicates and focus.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Güldemann, Tom et al.
    2010 Preposed verb doubling and predicate-centered focus. Paper presented at the International Conference of the SFB 632 “Information structure” , University of Potsdam and Humboldt University of Berlin, 8-10 July 2010. https://www2.hu-berlin.de/predicate_focus_africa/data/sfb632b7_sfb-conference_2010_07.pdf (Accessed20 Feb 2016.)
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Haida, Andreas
    2004 Wh- and focus constructions in Gurune. Paper presented at the Workshop on Bantu Grammar: Theory and description , ZAS Berlin, 2004.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Haiman, John
    1978 Conditionals are topics. Language54(3). 564–589. doi: 10.1353/lan.1978.0009
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1978.0009 [Google Scholar]
  37. Hartmann, Katharina & Malte Zimmermann
    2007 In place out of place? Focus strategies in Hausa. In Kerstin Schwabe & Susanne Winkler (eds.), On information structure, meaning and form: generalizing across languages, 365–403. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/la.100.20har
    https://doi.org/10.1075/la.100.20har [Google Scholar]
  38. Hole, Daniel P
    2004Focus and background marking in Mandarin Chinese: System and theory behind cái, jiù, dōu and yĕ. London: Routledge Curzon.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. 2011 The deconstruction of Chinese shì…de clefts revisited. In Edgar Onea & Malte Zimmermann (eds.), Focus marking and focus interpretation. Lingua121(11). 1707–1733.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Hopper, Paul J
    1979a Aspect and foregrounding in discourse. In Talmy Givón (ed.), Discourse and syntax (Syntax and Semantics 12), 213–241. New York/ San Francisco/ London: Academic Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. 1979b Some observations on the typology of focus and aspect in narrative language. Studies in Language3(1). 37–64. doi: 10.1075/sl.3.1.03hop
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sl.3.1.03hop [Google Scholar]
  42. (ed.) 1982Tense-aspect: Between semantics and pragmatics (Typological Studies in Language 1). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.1
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.1 [Google Scholar]
  43. Hudu, Fusheini
    2006 Focus marking in Dagbani. University of British Columbia: unpublished manuscript.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. 2012 Focus particles in Dagbani: A descriptive analysis. Journal of West African Languages39(1). 97–129.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Hutchison, John P
    1981The Kanuri language: A reference grammar. Madison: African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Hyman, Larry & John Watters
    1984 Auxiliary focus. Studies in African Linguistics15(3). 233–273.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Issah, Samuel A
    2008Information packaging in Dagbani. Tromsø: Department of Language and Linguistics, University of Tromsø M.A. thesis.
    [Google Scholar]
  48. 2013 The function of the post verbal la in Dagbani. Studies in African Linguistics42(2). 153–174.
    [Google Scholar]
  49. Jackendoff, Ray
    1972Semantic interpretation in generative grammar. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  50. Jacob, Peggy
    2010 On the obligatoriness of focus marking: Evidence from Tar B’arma. In I. Fiedler & A. Schwarz (eds.), The expression of information structure: A documentation of its diversity across Africa (Typological Studies in Language 91), 117–144. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.91.05jac
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.91.05jac [Google Scholar]
  51. Jaggar, Philip J
    2001Hausa. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/loall.7
    https://doi.org/10.1075/loall.7 [Google Scholar]
  52. 2006 The Hausa perfective tense-aspect used in wh-/focus constructions and historical narratives: A unified account. In Paul Newman & Larry M. Hyman (eds.), West African linguistics: Papers in honor of Rusell G. Schuh. Studies in African Linguistics, Supplement 11, 100–133. Columbus: Department of Linguistics, Ohio State University.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Jarrett, Kevin A
    1980 Tense/aspect/mood in Kanuri verb forms. Harsunan Nijeriya10. 1–28.
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Kalinowski, Cristin & Jeff Good
    2014 Non-canonical head-marking of information structure in African languages. Paper presented at the ISHML Workshop , Nijmegen, 28 March 2014.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Kandybowicz, Jason
    2008The grammar of repetition: Nupe grammar at the syntax-phonology interface. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/la.136
    https://doi.org/10.1075/la.136 [Google Scholar]
  56. Krifka, Manfred
    2007 Basic notions of information structure. In Caroline Féry , Gisbert Fanselow & Manfred Krifka (eds.), The notions of information structure (Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure 6), 13–55. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  57. Kropp Dakubu, Mary E
    2000 The particle la in Gurene. Gur Papers5. 59–65.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Lukas, Johannes
    1937A study of the Kanuri language: Grammar and vocabulary. London: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  59. Manessy, Gabriel
    1975Les langues oti-volta (Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale 15). Paris: SELAF.
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Matić, Dejan & Daniel Wedgwood
    2013 The meanings of focus: The significance of an interpretation-based category in cross-linguistic analysis. Journal of Linguistics49(1): 127–163. doi: 10.1017/S0022226712000345
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226712000345 [Google Scholar]
  61. McKay, Graham R
    1988 Figure and ground in Rembarrnga complex sentences. In Peter Austin (ed.), Complex sentence constructions in Australian languages (Typological Studies in Language 15), 7–36. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.15.03mck
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.15.03mck [Google Scholar]
  62. Ndumbu, J.M.G. & Wilfred H. Whiteley
    1962 Some problems of stability and emphasis in Kamba one-word tenses. Journal of African Languages1(2): 167–180.
    [Google Scholar]
  63. Olawsky, Knut J
    1999Aspects of Dagbani grammar: With special emphasis on phonology and morphology (LINCOM Studies in African Linguistics 41). München: LINCOM Europa.
    [Google Scholar]
  64. Olson, Michael
    1981Barai clause junctures: Toward a functional theory of interclausal relations. Canberra: Australian National University Ph.D. thesis.
    [Google Scholar]
  65. Purvis, Tristan M
    2012 Left dislocation in Dagbani: A preliminary survey. In Matthias Brenzinger & Anne-Maria Fehn (eds.), Proceedings of the 6th World Congress of African Linguistics, Cologne, 17-21 August 2009, 501–513. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
    [Google Scholar]
  66. Reinhart, Tanya
    2006Interface strategies: Optimal and costly computations (Linguistic Inquiry Monographs 45). MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  67. Rizzi, Luigi
    1997 The fine structure of the left periphery. In Liliane Haegeman (ed.), Elements of grammar: Handbook in generative syntax (Kluwer International Handbooks of Linguistics 1), 281–337. Dordrecht/ Boston/ London: Kluwer.
    [Google Scholar]
  68. 2004 On the cartography of syntactic structures. In Luigi Rizzi (ed.), The structure of CP and IP: The cartography of syntactic structures, vol. 2, 3–15. New York: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  69. Rooth, Mats
    1985Association with focus. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, Amherst Ph.D. thesis.
    [Google Scholar]
  70. 1992 A theory of focus interpretation. Natural Language Semantics1. 75–116. doi: 10.1007/BF02342617
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02342617 [Google Scholar]
  71. Samek-Lodovici, Vieri
    2006 When right dislocation meets the left-periphery: A unified analysis of Italian non-final focus. Lingua116. 836–873. doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2005.04.001
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2005.04.001 [Google Scholar]
  72. Sasse, Hans-Jürgen
    1987 The thetic/categorical distinction revisited. Linguistics25. 511–580. doi: 10.1515/ling.1987.25.3.511
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.1987.25.3.511 [Google Scholar]
  73. Schuh, Russell G
    1982 Questioned and focussed subjects and objects in Bade/Ngizim. In Herrmann Jungraithmayr (ed.), The Chad languages in the Hamitosemitic-Nigritic border area (Papers of the Marburg Symposion, 1979) (Marburger Studien zur Afrika- und Asienkunde A27), 160–173. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
    [Google Scholar]
  74. 2005 Yobe State, Nigeria as a linguistic area. In Rebecca T. Cover and Yuni Kim (eds.), Languages of West Africa. Berkeley Linguistics Society31(2). 77–94.
    [Google Scholar]
  75. Schwarz, Anne
    2009 How many focus markers are there in Konkomba?In Matondo Masangu , Fiona McLaughlin & Eric Potsdam (eds.), Selected proceedings of the 38th annual conference on African linguistics: Linguistic theory and African language documentation, 182–192. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
    [Google Scholar]
  76. Schwarzschild, Roger
    1999 GIVENness, AvoidF and other constraints on the placement of accent. Natural Language Semantics7. 141–177. doi: 10.1023/A:1008370902407
    https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008370902407 [Google Scholar]
  77. Smith, N.V
    1967An outline grammar of Nupe. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
    [Google Scholar]
  78. Stucky, Susan U
    1979 Focus of contrast aspects in Makua: Syntactic and semantic evidence. Berkeley Linguistics Society5. 362–372. doi: 10.3765/bls.v5i0.2153
    https://doi.org/10.3765/bls.v5i0.2153 [Google Scholar]
  79. Sylla, Yèro
    1993Syntaxe peule: Contribution à la recherche sur les universaux du langage. Dakar: Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines du Sénégal.
    [Google Scholar]
  80. Talmy, Leonard
    1978 Figure and ground in complex sentences. In Joseph H. Greenberg , Charles A. Ferguson & Edith A. Moravcsik (eds.), Universals of human language, volume 4: Syntax, 625–649. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  81. Tomlin, Russell S
    1985 Foreground-background information and the syntax of subordination. Text5: 85–122.
    [Google Scholar]
  82. (ed.) 1987Coherence and grounding in discourse (Typological Studies in Language 11). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/tsl.11
    https://doi.org/10.1075/tsl.11 [Google Scholar]
  83. Townsend, David J. & Thomas G. Bever
    1977Main and subordinate clauses: A study in figure and ground. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club.
    [Google Scholar]
  84. Truckenbrodt, Hubert
    1995Phonological phrases: Their relation to syntax, focus and prominence. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D. thesis.
    [Google Scholar]
  85. Van der Wal, Jenneke
    2011 Focus excluding alternatives: Conjoint/disjoint marking in Makhuwa. Lingua121. 1734–1750. doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2010.10.013
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2010.10.013 [Google Scholar]
  86. Van Valin, Robert D
    1984 A typology of syntactic relations in clause linkage. Berkeley Linguistics Society10. 542–558. doi: 10.3765/bls.v10i0.1975
    https://doi.org/10.3765/bls.v10i0.1975 [Google Scholar]
  87. Wilson, W.A.A
    1963 Relative constructions in Dagbani. Journal of African Languages2. 139–144.
    [Google Scholar]
  88. Wolff, H. Ekkehard & Doris Löhr
    2006 Encoding focus in Kanuri verbal morphology: Predication focus and the “Kanuri focus shift”. In I. Fiedler and A. Schwarz (eds.), Papers on information structure in African languages (ZAS Papers in Linguistics 46), 185–209. Berlin: Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Typologie und Universalienforschung.
    [Google Scholar]
  89. Ziegelmeyer, Georg
    2011 On argument focus in Kanuri. In Doris Löhr , Eva Rothmaler & Georg Ziegelmeyer (eds.), Kanuri, Borno and beyond: Current studies on the Lake Chad region (Topics in Interdisciplinary African Studies 22), 191–205. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
    [Google Scholar]
  90. Zima, Petr
    1991 Le problème des formes verbales dites “relatives” en tchadique. In Herrmann Jungraithmayr & Henry Tourneux (eds.), Etudes tchadiques la phrase complexe, 15–26. Paris: Paul Geuthner.
    [Google Scholar]
  91. 2006 TAM verbal paradigms in the West African Sahel as areal (Sprachbund), genetic and sociolinguistic features (Where are we 75 years after Klingenheben?). In Bernard Caron & Petr Zima (eds.), Sprachbund in the West African Sahel (Afrique et Langage 11), 221–237. Leuven/ Paris: Peeters.
    [Google Scholar]
  92. Zimmermann, Malte
    2011 The grammatical expression of focus in West Chadic: Variation and uniformity in and across languages. Linguistics49(5). 1163–1213. doi: 10.1515/ling.2011.032
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.2011.032 [Google Scholar]
  93. Zimmermann, Malte & Caroline Féry
    (eds.) 2010Information structure: Theoretical, typological and experimental perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Research Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error