Efficient marking of argument focus: A trade-off between focus particles and word order in Sinhala

Shigeki Yoshida


Colloquial Sinhala has focus concord constructions in which finite verbs with the suffix -e mark argument focus. In such constructions, the focal constituent is optionally marked via a focus particle, via movement to a postverbal (rather than preverbal) position, or via a combination of a focus particle and postverbal position. In this paper, I quantitatively analyze the preferred position of focal constituents marked by the three focus particles =yi, tamaa and tamai, as well as those not marked by any particle. Using data from a news website, I show that marking via a particle and the movement to the postverbal position are not randomly used. Rather, focal constituents marked by a focus particle are less likely to occur preverbally, while those not marked by a particle are more likely to occur postverbally. Moreover, among constituents marked by a focus particle, those marked by the particle =yi are more likely to occur postverbally. Based on these findings, I argue that the positional tendencies of focal constituents can be regarded as efficient marking patterns. When a constituent is marked by a focus particle, it is less likely to occur preverbally because the focal constituent is already explicit and the marking by the position would be redundant. The preference of =yi for the postverbal position does not seem to follow this general tendency until one takes into account that it requires less effort to produce =yi due to its phonological status. With this in mind, the distribution of constituents marked by =yi can also be regarded as an efficient pattern. The discussion in this paper contributes to both the typology of efficiency and the typology of optional focus marking.


Sinhala; Indo-Aryan; focus concord constructions; word order; optionality; redundancy; efficiency

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v7i1.5223

Copyright (c) 2022 Shigeki Yoshida

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