Focus, exhaustivity and existence in Akan, Ga and Ngamo

Mira Grubic 1 , Agata Renans 2 ,  and Reginald Akuoko Duah 3
  • 1 Linguistics Department, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25, 14476, Potsdam, Germany
  • 2 Sprachwissenschaftliches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universitätsstr. 150, 44801, Bochum, Germany
  • 3 Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana, Legon, P.O. Box LG 61, Legon, Accra, Ghana
Mira Grubic
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  • Linguistics Department, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25, 14476, Potsdam, Germany
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, Agata Renans
  • Sprachwissenschaftliches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universitätsstr. 150, 44801, Bochum, Germany
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and Reginald Akuoko Duah

Abstract

This paper discusses the relation between focus marking and focus interpretation in Akan (Kwa), Ga (Kwa), and Ngamo (West Chadic). In all three languages, there is a special morphosyntactically marked focus/background construction, as well as morphosyntactically unmarked focus. We present data stemming from original fieldwork investigating whether marked focus/background constructions in these three languages also have additional interpretative effects apart from standard focus interpretation. Crosslinguistically, different additional inferences have been found for marked focus constructions, e.g. contrast (e.g. Vallduví, Enric & Maria Vilkuna. 1997. On rheme and kontrast. In Peter Culicover & Louise McNally (eds.), The limits of syntax (Syntax and semantics 29), 79–108. New York: Academic Press; Hartmann, Katharina & Malte Zimmermann. 2007b. In place – Out of place: Focus in Hausa. In Kerstin Schwabe & Susanne Winkler (eds.), On information structure, meaning and form, 365–403. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.; Destruel, Emilie & Leah Velleman. 2014. Refining contrast: Empirical evidence from the English it-cleft. In Christopher Piñón (ed.), Empirical issues in syntax and semantics 10, 197–214. Paris: Colloque de syntaxe et sémantique à Paris (CSSP). http://www.cssp.cnrs.fr/eiss10/), exhaustivity (e.g. É. Kiss, Katalin. 1998. Identificational focus versus information focus. Language 74(2). 245–273.; Hartmann, Katharina & Malte Zimmermann. 2007a. Exhaustivity marking in Hausa: A re-evaluation of the particle nee/cee. In Enoch O. Aboh, Katharina Hartmann & Malte Zimmermann (eds.), Focus strategies in African languages: The interaction of focus and grammar in Niger-Congo and Afro-Asiatic (Trends in Linguistics 191), 241–263. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.), and existence (e.g. Rooth, Mats. 1999. Association with focus or association with presupposition? In Peter Bosch & Rob van der Sandt (eds.), Focus: Linguistic, cognitive, and computational perspectives, 232–244. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.; von Fintel, Kai & Lisa Matthewson. 2008. Universals in semantics. The Linguistic Review 25(1–2). 139–201). This paper investigates these three inferences. In Akan and Ga, the marked focus constructions are found to be contrastive, while in Ngamo, no effect of contrast was found. We also show that marked focus constructions in Ga and Akan trigger exhaustivity and existence presuppositions, while the marked construction in Ngamo merely gives rise to an exhaustive conversational implicature and does not trigger an existence presupposition. Instead, the marked construction in Ngamo merely indicates salience of the backgrounded part via a morphological background marker related to the definite determiner (Schuh, Russell G. 2005. Yobe state, Nigeria as a linguistic area. Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 31(2). 77–94; Güldemann, Tom. 2016. Maximal backgrounding=focus without (necessary) focus encoding. Studies in Language 40(3). 551–590). The paper thus contributes to the understanding of the semantics of marked focus constructions across languages and points to the crosslinguistic variation in expressing and interpreting marked focus/background constructions.

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