Focus particles in German

Focus particles in German: Syntax, prosody, and information structure. By Stefan Sudhoff. (Linguistik aktuell/linguistics today 151.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xiii, 335. ISBN 9789027255341. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Thomas Hoffmann, University of Osnabrück

As its subtitle suggests, Focus particles in German investigates the syntax, information structure, and prosody of German focus particles such as nur ‘only’ and auch ‘also’.

After a brief introductory chapter (1–4) outlining the scope and organization of the study, Ch. 2, ‘Theoretical background’ (5–31), provides an in-depth overview of S’s theoretical assumptions. In particular, he discusses the various linguistic levels that have been claimed to affect the focus particle construction, and presents the generative, modular view of grammar adopted in his analysis. Ch. 3, ‘The semantics of focus particles’ (33–57), shows that the semantic contribution of focus particles crucially depends on their interaction with the focus-background partition of a sentence. Moreover, S claims that these properties can be modelled equally well within either the alternative semantics or structured meanings frameworks.

Ch. 4, ‘Focus particles, syntax, and information structure’ (59–148), then argues that focus particles in German are best analyzed as VP-adjoined maximal categories that behave like adverbials and have a fixed syntactic position. Additionally, focus particles are shown to be sensitive to the independent focus-background partition of a sentence, with the domain of the particle being the sentence focus (except for stressed additive focus particles whose domain functions as a contrastive topic). In Ch. 5, ‘The scope of focus particles’ (149–71), S emphasizes that their scope is different from their domain. Among the variables that determine scope are several syntactic nodes (CP, DP, and PP).

Ch. 6, ‘The prosody of sentences with stressed additive focus particles’ (173–246), proceeds to an empirical investigation of focus particles, starting with a corpus study and several speech production and perception experiments on the prosodic realization of the constituent associated with the stressed additive particle auch. As these studies show, the associated element is normally marked by a high or rising pitch accent, while the particle itself exhibits a falling accent. However, the corpus data indicate that pronominal associated elements tend to be non-accented. Furthermore, S points out that in the prosodic marking of the associated element, continuous phonetic factors (such as the gradual realization of the F0-peak, F0-rise, and duration) seem to play a more important role than phonological marking (i.e. a specific accent type).

Ch. 7, ‘Focus particles and contrast’ (247–87), investigates the prosodic realization of the associated elements of unstressed focus particles and provides experimental evidence that these can carry contrastive as well as new information focus. As S argues, the actual type of focus is thus not determined by the particle but the overall information-structural properties of a sentence. Finally, Ch. 8, ‘Conclusion’ (289–91), provides a short summary of S’s main findings.

Not all readers might share S’s theoretical view on the mental architecture of grammar. Nonetheless, this book is an important contribution to a growing body of research that investigates the interaction of syntax, prosody, and information structure, and should therefore be of interest to those working in any of these three fields.

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