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Acquisition of focus marking in European Portuguese – Evidence for a unified approach to focus

Costa, J; Szendroi, K; (2006) Acquisition of focus marking in European Portuguese – Evidence for a unified approach to focus. In: Torrens, V and Escobar, L, (eds.) The Acquisition of Syntax in Romance Languages. (pp. 319-329). John Benjamins: Amsterdam, Netherlands. Green open access

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Abstract

Recent literature on the syntax-discourse interface in Romance languages indicates that the word order variation found in these languages correlates with the position of nuclear stress. For instance, in Romance languages allowing subject-verb inversion, it has been claimed that the subject is clause-final, because this is the position where nuclear stress falls (Zubizarreta 1998, Costa 1998, Ordóñez 1997, among others). The nature of focus marking across languages is subject to a lively debate. According to some authors, focus-marking is subject to parametric variation, in the sense that some languages mark focus syntactically, while others do it prosodically (Horvath 1986, Rizzi 1997). Under this view, if a language marks focus syntactically, as many Romance languages do, additional prosodic effects are coincidental. In other words, syntactic marking is sufficient for encoding focus information, and prosody plays no role. According to other authors, focus is universally marked by prosodic prominence. In case syntactic effects are associated with focus, they are a direct consequence of the prosodic organization of the language (Reinhart 1995, Szendroi 2001). The goal of this paper is to investigate whether children make the distinction between syntactic marking and prosodic marking of focus. Since there is variation in focus-marking, children have to find out which strategy is used in their language, and, therefore, in the course of development, it is expected that they will make mistakes both in the production and comprehension of focus. In fact, initial results confirm the problematic status of focus-marking in different languages (Crain et al. 1994). There is reason to believe that the characteristic properties of the acquisition of focus may shed light on the theoretical debate with respect to the parametric nature of focus-marking. If focus marking was truly parametric, we would expect that children who acquire language with syntactic focus marking fail to comprehend marked word orders. In languages where focus is marked only prosodically, the expectation is that they initially fail to comprehend cases of prosodic markedness. Crucially, in a language such as European Portuguese, in which both strategies co-exist in some constructions, children are expected to fail on both. Therefore, children’s mastery of word order and stress in focus contexts provides a good testing ground for the comparison between the two approaches to focus.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Acquisition of focus marking in European Portuguese – Evidence for a unified approach to focus
ISBN-13: 978 90 272 5301 9
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://benjamins.com/catalog/lald.41
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Linguistics
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10124678
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