Assymetry in Slavic NPS: Deriving Focus from Ordered Set of Functions

Olga Arnaudova, University of Ottawa; Alena Soschen, University of Ottawa

This paper discusses focus relations obtained within NPs on the basis of Slavic NPs, and shows that focus creates an asymmetric syntactic relation within the NP equivalent to predication (Rothstein 1983, 1995). This is formalized as a succession of semantic operations. This is illustrated in (1) and (2), which include two hierarchically ordered assertions. The first assertion introduces a variable x, which is found in a presupposed set, while the second provides an equation relation between the variable defined in the first assertion and a value:

(1)Assertion 1: there is an x, such that x is an element of S(x)
Assertion 2: x = “woman”, S(w)
(2)Assertion 1: there is an x, such that x is an element of W(x)
Assertion 2: x = “smart”, W(s)

With contrastive focus, the stress, which can fall either on the N or the A, is marked (as in (3), (4) for Russian and (5), (6) for Bulgarian). In this case focus assignment involves the existence of a set of alternatives (Rooth 1996).

(3)umnajaŽEnščina (Russian)
(4)UMnajaženšina (Russian)
(5)umna/umnatažeNA (Bulgarian)
smart/the smartwoman
(6)UMna/UMnatažena (Bulgarian)
smart/the smartwoman

First, a single value is assigned against either a specified (singleton or otherwise) or unspecified set of values. In (3) and (5), the set of “women” is “checked” against this set. Then a relation is established between two sets: “women” and “smart things,” where “women” is a preferred set. By “preferred” we mean that a relational function is mapping the set of “women” on the set of “smart things” and not vice versa. In (4) and (6), the set of smart things is also referred to a (pre-existing) set of things that fall outside the scope of “smartness” but the mapping is done from the set of “smart things” (preferred set) to the set of “women.”

In our view, introduction of a variable x of a presupposed set and subsequent introduction of an equation relation between the variable and a value (as in (1) and (2)) can be referred to as predication (Rothstein 1983, 1995). In case of contrastive focus ((3)–(6)) in Slavic NPs, syntactic predication relationship is asymmetric and comparable to the one found at a sentence level: a non-focused element is linked to its non-predicative focused “argument”, while within neutrally focused NPs, the predication relation is achieved by selecting either the adjective or the noun as predicate/argument.


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