Why the Meaning of Discourse Particles is Separated from Focus-Background Structure

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Abstract

German discourse particles are semantically/pragmatically separated from focus-background structure: Neither can their meanings be in narrow focus nor can they be included in a broad focus or in the background. I argue that this follows from independently justified assumptions: a) Discourse particles are expressive elements and therefore their meanings cannot be in the scope of other meaning components. b) Focus-background structure is always in the scope of operators. These assumptions, together with a more specific constraint on addressee-oriented expressives, explain the separation of DPRT meanings from focus-background structure. Possible counterevidence comes from stressed uses of some particles in which they have an effect similar to verum focus. But the particle variants involved in these cases have a descriptive meaning component which is not subject to the scope restrictions holding for expressive meanings and therefore can be put into focus.