Dialogue, Progressing Towards a Common Basis for Discussion

  • Eva Hajičová
  • Barbara H. Partee
  • Petr Sgall
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 71)


In BHP’s ‘extended tripartite structures’ diagram (30) in Section 2.2.3, one finds listed both topic-comment and background-focus as distinctions that correlate with restrictor and nuclear scope in tripartite structures. HS question whether those are two separate distinctions or two perspectives on the single distinction which they refer to as topic-focus.


Word Order Embed Clause Focus Element Pitch Accent Tripartite Structure 
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  1. 52.
    It may be noted that two kinds of ‘out of the blue’ sentences are to be distinguished: (i) sentences without a topic (‘speaking about’ the situation, e.g. It is raining, and (ii) sentences with a CB item the salience of which is permanent, cf. we in We may expect good weather. Google Scholar
  2. 53.
    The mentioned difference in CD, as C. Bartels (p.c.) notes, is connected with the fact that ‘new topic’ (if present in the focus of the preceding utterance) most often is maximally salient, and thus maximally predictable (identifiable), whereas ‘old topic’ is picked from a set of candidates of potentially equal salience.Google Scholar
  3. 54.
    As one of the referees of this text points out, the focus in the typical focus position in Hungarian (immediately before the verb) may be understood to be exhaustive, differing thus from normal intonation focus (at the end of the sentence). It could then be worth of further examination whether, in HS’s terms, focus proper primarily is placed immediately before the verb in Hungarian (especially if the verb is CB), while the rest of the focus (and, similarly, the noun groups within a focus that also contains the verb) can follow the verb; see also fn. 28 in Section 2.3.1 and the remark on exhaustiveness in 4.2 above.Google Scholar
  4. 55.
    Cf. the Praguian distinctions of topic and focus proper vs. the whole topic and focus parts of the sentence.Google Scholar
  5. 56.
    The scope could also be just the verb phrase, in which case the background, “scope minus focus”, would be a corresponding lambda-abstraction of an existentially quantified formula; since the difference between VP scope and sentence scope is rarely crucial and raises no relevant logical complications and since VP is not a recognized category in dependency grammars, we will ignore VP scope here, and simply conflate VP scope with S scope wherever reasonable.Google Scholar
  6. 57.
    Let us add that also with Jim only said that a boy walked one of the readings includes a boy as CB (the indefinite article then coming semantically close to one of the). On the other reading(s), with a boy being NB, this noun group belongs to the focus of only, and its counterpart in the tripartite structure appears only in the nuclear scope, not in the restrictor.Google Scholar
  7. 58.
    The BHP analysis should be reexamined to see whether there is a distinction to be made that corresponds to HS’s distinction between (101 ′a) and (101 ′b) . HS clearly have a four-way distinction here, with Peter more or less dynamic than loved and independently with said part of the focus or not. The usual Focus-projection analysis, slightly oversimplified, may simply be said to offer three increasingly inclusive domains projected up the tree from loved. While there are surely fmer-grained distinctions that are drawn when one takes full account of details of timing and intonation, the basic division is among the three structures of (96)(bl-b3) rather than the four structures in (101’) and (101 ′).Google Scholar
  8. 59.
    The question “alternatives to what” depends on the results of the debate on the attachment of only. Google Scholar
  9. 60.
    Here we are not going into the question of the boundaries between semantics and pragmatics with respect to negation and denial or the exact nature of the suggested ASSERT operator. See Hoehle (1992) on ‘verum-focus’ in German for some relevant investigation of what is bound to be an important and controversial area in the study of focus. See also Sgall (1987) on the differences between the standpoints of HS, of J. Firbas and of other researchers. For HS the open question is whether the ASSERT operator belongs to the tectogrammatical level or only to the (output of) semantic interpretation.Google Scholar
  10. 61.
    HS’s view on the opposition of ‘subject-prominent’ and ‘topic-prominent’ languages, formulated in Sgall’s (1977) review, is based on the (rather common) assumption that TFA is present in languages of both classes.Google Scholar
  11. 62.
    Kai von Fintel (p. c.) notes that it has often been proposed that such ‘topicless’ sentences are always understood as having something like ‘the situation’ as their implicit topic. According to HS, if the situation or the scene is understood as their topic, this means that the topic would be seen outside of the structure of such sentences, which they are prepared to accept for the output of the semantico-pragmatic interpretation, rather than for the TRs. BHP notes that this is also a theory-dependent matter, since a number of approaches include an event argument of some sort in the logical form and sometimes even in the syntax proper.Google Scholar
  12. 63.
    As one of the referees of our manuscript remarks, the mentioned status of the passive in English child language can be found in various ‘adult’ languages, e.g. in Chinese.Google Scholar
  13. 64.
    Since contrast is based on a choice among alternatives, in a certain sense the focus can always be understood as contrastive (although there are good reasons to understand narrow focus as contrastive in a sense or degree in which broad focus would not be). However, even a(part of the) topic may be put into contrast, i.e. the chosen item may be referred to by a CB expression, as illustrated by (110)–(112), where only the verb (and the negation) is NB.Google Scholar
  14. 65.
    In (111), Milenu is a contrastive topic (opposed to Janu), but it need not be specifically stressed. (However, this conjecture, based on introspection, should be confronted with an acoustical analysis, which may bring a deeper insight; cf., for English, Section 6.3.2.)Google Scholar
  15. 66.
    Thanks to K. von Fintel for reminding us to emphasize this point. And for a recent and very relevant study of the relationship of word order to topic and focus in Russian as compared to English, in terms of the frameworks of Government-Binding Theory and of Lexical Functional Grammar, see King (1995), a work which appeared after our penultimate draft was completed and which we have not had an opportunity to examine and discuss jointly.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eva Hajičová
    • 1
  • Barbara H. Partee
    • 2
  • Petr Sgall
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Mathematics and PhysicsCharles UniversityPragueCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of Massachusetts at AmherstAmherstUSA

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