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The prosody of specification: Discourse intonational cues to setting up a variable

Van Praet, Wout and O'Grady, Gerard 2018. The prosody of specification: Discourse intonational cues to setting up a variable. Journal of Pragmatics 135 , pp. 85-100. 10.1016/j.pragma.2018.07.013

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While much research exists on specificational clauses, this paper is the first to systematically use real corpus examples to examine the meaning potential of prosody in signalling informational value in specificational clauses. Carefully distinguishing between two senses of information structure – the relational and the referential – we show that the interplay of prosody and specificational clause, reversed and non-reversed, is far from random. In the majority of non-reversed clauses, we found that the value and variable were realised in different tone units. Thus, claims that the value will receive the focal accent were found to be overly simplistic. Instead, where the variable and value were realised across different tone units the prosodic choice was motivated by the variable's discourse status and relative unpredictability. Rising tones presented the value as non-exhaustive, allowing for multiple values for a single variable. This re-enforced the projected lack of epistemic certainty. As expected, reversed specificationals were found to be produced mostly as single tone units; contrary to expectation, their focal accent was often on the variable. This, we noted, was likely due to the high incidence of demonstrative values in subject position. To conclude, our innovative approach demonstrates the importance of examining the interplay between syntax, discourse and prosody in explicating the meaning potential of constructions such as specificational clauses.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0378-2166
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 14 August 2018
Date of Acceptance: 30 July 2018
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2019 03:53

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