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Managing information flow through prosody in it-clefts

Bourgoin, Charlotte, O'Grady, Gerard and Davidse, Kristin 2021. Managing information flow through prosody in it-clefts. English Language and Linguistics 25 (3) , pp. 485-511. 10.1017/S1360674321000216

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This article addresses the question of how speakers manage information flow in specificational it-clefts by balancing grammatical and prosodic choices in real time. We examine this in a qualitative and quantitative corpus study of both full and reduced it-clefts extracted from the first London–Lund Corpus (LLC–1), whose prosody we studied combining auditory and instrumental analysis. Our empirical analysis resulted in the following findings about cleft usage in speech. Speakers have considerable freedom to choose what information to make prominent irrespective of the actual discourse-givenness of the constituents. Clefts allow speakers to highlight elements by means of two strategies, syntactic and prosodic, which may reinforce each other or create their own different types of prominence in sequence. It-clefts always have a high first pitch accent, which signals some form of reset of the expectations generated by preceding utterances. The choice of whether or not to produce a cleft relative clause is not purely informationally motivated. Rather, reduced clefts achieve specific unique rhetorical effects. All of this makes clefts a particularly useful device for speakers responding moment by moment to informational needs and shifting communicative goals.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISSN: 1360-6743
Funders: Research Council University of Leuven
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 29 November 2021
Date of Acceptance: 29 November 2021
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2022 14:29

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