On the roles of anaphoricity and questions in free focus

Informations pratiques
01 juin 2023

ENS, salle de réunion, Pavillon Jardin, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005


The sensitivity of focus to context has often been analyzed in terms of anaphoric relations between sentences and surrounding discourse. Data from Wagner (2006) and Katzir (2013) challenge earlier anaphoric accounts of focus placement and raise the possibility of a non-anaphoric account in which questions play a central role, a direction pursued by Büring (2019). However, while an account without special felicity conditions on focus placement seems preferable on conceptual grounds, there are cases where the fine control offered by anaphoricity seems needed, either to block deaccenting that would be licensed by a question or to allow local deaccenting that is not warranted by a question. Such cases challenge non-anaphoric accounts and appear to support recent anaphoric proposals such as Schwarzschild (2020) and Goodhue (2022). I argue that these potential arguments for anaphoricity are only apparent and that to the extent that the anaphoric component is not inert it is in fact harmful. I propose that the distribution of focus is not governed by any direct felicity constraints, anaphoric or otherwise. Rather, what determines whether focus placement is felicitous is indirect: focus feeds semantic processes such as exhaustification and question formation, and the result should be an acceptable contribution to discourse.