Discourse functions of focus marking in Avatime

Saskia van Putten 1
  • 1 Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Saskia van Putten


Avatime is a Kwa language spoken in Ghana. 1 It has a focus construction in which the focused element is placed in clause-initial position and marked with an extra-high tone. In this paper I discuss the functions of this focus construction, mostly based on a corpus of spontaneous discourse. The focus construction can mark focus on subjects, objects, adjuncts and verbs. Focus marking is usually interpreted as narrow focus on the focus-marked element, but the focus may be wider. Focus marking is not obligatory. In answers to questions, it is rarely used, except when the focused element is the subject. In other contexts, the focus construction is mostly used for contrastive purposes, indicating there are alternatives to the focused element or that the focused element is unexpected. These functions can be unified in the definition of focus marking as highlighting the common-ground update.



This paper is based on a chapter of my PhD thesis (van Putten 2014). I would like to thank my thesis supervisors Felix Ameka, Nick Enfield, Dejan Matić and Robert D. Van Valin, jr., as well as Rebecca Defina, Julia Baranova and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. I would also like to thank the audiences at ISSLaC 2013, LAG conference 2013 and CALL 2014 where previous versions of this paper were presented. Finally, I am very grateful to all the members of the Avatime community who have helped me in various ways, most importantly Mathias Mahunu, Samuel Oboni and Charlotte Bakudie.

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The Journal of African Languages and Linguistics was founded in 1979 and has established itself as an important refereed forum for publications in African linguistics. The journal welcomes original contributions on all aspects of African language studies, synchronic as well as diachronic, theoretical as well as data-oriented.