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Abstract

This paper combines a Question(-under-Discussion) account of focusing with a givenness account of prosodic demotion (‘deaccenting’). Its main tenets are, first, that all focusing is contrastive, i.e. points to a proper question – a question with contrasting answers; second, that any deviation from default stress signals focusing; there is no ‘anaphoric deaccenting’ of given elements, only contrastive focusing. Third, the question that licenses focusing need not be contextually salient, merely identifiable and relevant. Fourth and finally, where the prosodic realization of focusing requires prosodic demotion – the assignment of less-than-default stress to a constituent – that constituent must be given; a question under discussion, even if identifiable and relevant, cannot lead prosodic demotion of discourse-new elements.

The approach is couched in terms of unalternative semantics, a new method of relating stress patterns to sets of potential focal targets (‘alternatives’) which does not rely on syntactic F-marking. The overall approach is argued to successfully explain cases in which given elements fail to deaccent, in which focal backgrounds are not contextually salient, as well as, more speculatively, cases of double focus.

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