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Essays on Semantic and Pragmatic Topics
A Cross-linguistic Perspective
Empirical and Methodological Challenges


This paper focuses on the prosodic realization of Urdu/Hindi kya ‘what’ in polar and wh-constituent questions. The wh-word kya ‘what’ is polyfunctional in that it is used in wh-constituent questions to mean ‘what’, but also serves as a marker of polar questions. The distribution of kya is relatively free in both types of questions, which can lead to syntactically (and therefore semantically) ambiguous structures involving kya ‘what’.We show that prosodic information is crucial for the disambiguation of such sentences. We report on a production experiment which establishes that the wh-constituent kya is prosodically focused while polar kya is accentless. Moreover, the nouns following wh-constituent kya have shorter duration as compared with the nouns following polar kya, which have longer duration and an LH contour. We show that speakers of Urdu/Hindi are perceptually sensitive to the prosodic properties of wh-constituent and polar kya and the following nouns. We take the information established about kya ‘what’ and show how the prosodic differences guide syntactic disambiguation at the prosody-syntax interface, which in turn results in the activation of the appropriate semantic information (polar vs. wh-constituent readings of kya). We model our analysis within Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG) and work with Bogel’s framework of the prosody-syntax interface (Bogel 2015, this volume).


In this paper, a non-standard point of view is taken with regard to the syntactic implementation of scrambling in German: The standard view on this phenomenon seems to be that information structural (IS) functional heads, arranged above vP, trigger movements of DPs, PPs, etc., which are themselves equipped with a corresponding feature specification. In this paper, a different approach is taken: It is argued that restrictions hold mostly in the mapping of syntactic structures to the semantic and phonological interfaces - and IS features do not figure in these interface restrictions. Instead, restrictions over the prosodic, syntactic, and semantic relations, established as the outcomes of a derivation, restrict scrambling. This treatment, it will be shown, is theoretically and empirically preferable, and cannot be restated in cartographic terms.



Comparative constructions havemany possible syntactic continuations, including bare NPs, VP Ellipsis, and full clauses. This project explores their processing and use by examining the frequency of different comparative structures within a set of over 4000 sentences from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), and by a written and an auditory questionnaire on the interpretation preferences of comparative bare NP ellipsis. The corpus data shows that ellipsis structures are much more frequent than full clauses in comparatives, with bare NP ellipsis most frequent (50% of the data). We suggest that clauses are dispreferred because of the repetition and prosodic deaccenting involved in producing complete clauses compared to structures that retain primarily the contrastive information. Although 80% of bare NP examples in the corpus contrast with the previous clause’s subject, ambiguous bareNP remnants are more likely to be interpreted as contrasting with the object in comprehension. Since contrastive accent placement strongly affects the preferred interpretation, as does NP parallelism, we suggest that a default expectation of focus on the last argument accounts for the object bias in processing. Thus both the syntactic structures found in the corpus and the interpretation of ambiguous examples can be tied to different aspects of the focus structure of comparatives.