Talk by Wagner on May 6

Departmental Colloquium

Information Structure Effects on Prosody: English vs. French

Michael Wagner
McGill University

Cobb 201
2:30-4pm *NOTE NEW TIME*

ABSTRACT:
Germanic and Romance languages differ in how prosody is affected by information structure.  Ladd (2008), e.g., observes contrasts between English and Italian that reveal differences in how argument structure and  information structure affect prosody. These differences seem to generalize to other Romance and Germanic languages (see Swerts et al. 2002, Swerts 2007 for experimental evidence on Dutch, Italian, and Romanian). Using evidence (mainly from English and French), this talk explores the semantic, syntactic, and phonological underpinnings of the prosodic differences. The observed patterns suggest a connection between seemingly unrelated facts, e.g., the stresslessness of indefinite pronouns such as ‘something’ and contrastive focus; they reveal that both semantic and phonological givenness play a role in focus marking, as do constraints on syntactic movement; they cast doubt on claims of a universal nuclear stress (Cinque 1993); and finally, they have repercussions in sometimes unexpected ways, e.g., they influence what types of rhyme are considered artistic in poetry.

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