LSCHL 09: Corrective Focus in Mandarin Chinese

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Corrective Focus in Mandarin Chinese

“A Question of Belief?"

Markus Greif
University of Bielefeld

The present study investigates the impact of constrastive focus (CF) on the prosody in Mandarin Chinese (MC), known as a tone language. CF in corrections – hence, corrective focus – was often defined mainly in terms of semantic alternatives replacing a corrected item (e.g., Rooth 1992, Krifka 2007). In these frameworks, speaker-hearer assumptions, or mutual beliefs have been considered more or less (ir-)relevant (e.g., Chafe 1976). There is, however, an approach according to which the violation of speaker-hearer beliefs is the main factor for regarding an expression as contrastive, i.e., the Contrastive Focus Hypothesis (CFH; Zimmermann 2007).

As a consequence, linguistic marking of CF would be restricted to those cases in which the propositional content of particular information is considered by the speaker to be highly unexpected for the addressee, assuming that a language reserves grammatical devices for marking contrastiveness at all. Apart from that, it has been proposed a counterpresuppositional focus type – correcting presupposed information (on the polarity of a proposition) – as distinct from corrective focus (Gussenhoven 2007). Several studies found that MC marks (wh-)focus in terms of specific adjustments of the lexical tones, both on- and post-focally (e.g., Jin 1996, Xu 1999). These results have been implemented in the TA model (Xu & Wang 2001) and developed further in the PENTA model by Xu (2005) and Xu et al. (forthcoming). However, few is known about corrective focus in comparison to wh-focus in this language – and there has been no empirical study on the impact of the violation of mutual beliefs on the realization of CF.

Both aspects are at the center of interest in the present study. Two types of corrective foci (COR) have been investigated systematically by means of a semi-spontaneous elicitation method. In the first type of COR foregrounded, or asserted material is to be corrected by the participants (A-COR), while the second type of COR applies to presupposed background information (P-COR). A third type of focus, i.e., narrow wh-focus, or neutral information focus (NIF) serves as the baseline condition to be compared with A-COR and P-COR. It can be shown that only P-COR has been consistently distinguished from NIF by the speakers, and that A-COR and P-COR differ considerably in their prosodic realizations. Thus, the results show that, first, MC allows for marking relatively subtle distinctions by means of prosody.

Second, accounts such as the CFH are supported by the present data. These results are basically supported by the syntax speakers used: i.e., the so-called ‘initial bare shi4-clefts’ (Paul & Whitman 2008). Based on these results one may suggest a contrast-related communicative function that is (quasi-)independent from the semantic process of replacing propositional content to be implemented in the PENTA model.

ISBN 9783862885114. LINCOM Studies in Chinese Linguistics 09. 182pp. 2012.

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