Prof. Dr. Walt Detmar Meurers
Focus projection between theory and evidence


Kordula De Kuthy and Detmar Meurers


Sam Featherston and Britta Stolterfoth (eds.), Empirical Approaches to Linguistic Theory. De Gruyter. pp. 207-240.


In researching the interaction between intonation, information structure and syntax, the question whether focus projection exists and, if so, how it is constrained, plays a central role. In three decades of research, the different aspects which need to be taken into account at this interface, and the linguistic modeling it requires, has become more elaborate. Yet, recent theories proposing to eliminate focus projection entirely showcase that the theoretical proposals deserve to be revisited and reconnected to sound empirical insights.


In this paper, we link the discussion in theoretical linguistics around eliminating focus project altogether (Roberts 2006, Kadmon 2006) to the empirical evidence which has been provided so far for focus projection in experimental studies. We complement these results with an exploration of evidence in annotated spoken language corpora. The corpus-based investigation essentially adds to the evidence on production. We only see what the speakers realized in a given linguistic context. In corpora we thus have limited information on the general context and the questions under discussion, and we generally have no evidence on how the sentences are interpreted by the hearers. Yet, the presumably successful authentic language use included in the two spoken language corpora discussed does provide evidence on the space of apparently acceptable realizations. The finding that there is significant variation in the realizations in the corpus confirms the parallel finding of the experimental production studies we discussed. In terms of theoretical interpretation, such variation goes against requiring particular intonational patterns for particular information structure uses. It also seems clear that there are realizations which can be used in multiple information structure contexts. We can thus conclude that it is relevant and important to further investigate the nature of such sentences and where variation in the realization is possible: Are there syntactic, semantic, or information structure restrictions on when such ambiguity exists?



Electronically available:


Note: The electronic versions of the publications linked on this page are the last versions I had the copyright for. Where a publisher copyedited and/or typeset the papers, the electronic copies linked here are NOT identical to the officially published version, which should be used for any quotes, references to page numbers, etc.



Bibtex entry:

   author = 	 {Kordula {De Kuthy} and Detmar Meurers},
   title = 	 {Focus projection between theory and evidence},
   editor =      {Sam Featherston and Britta Stolterfoth},
   booktitle =   {Empirical Approaches to Linguistic Theory},
   year =        {2012},
   address =     {Amsterdam},
   publisher =   {De Gruyter},
   pages =       {207--240},
   url =         {}