December 13, 2014
Towards a typology of focus positions: Two types of focus in Colombian Spanish
José Camacho, Rutgers University
Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College,
Room N452, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA
Speakers of languages signal the relative importance of the information they convey by changing the order of sentences,
or by giving some constituents more prominence than others. Whenever information is new,
it is termed as focus, and one important way to indicate focus entails the copular verb be,
in constructions that have been called clefts. Certain varieties of Central Colombian Spanish (CCS)
have a particular kind of cleft where the copular verb appears towards the end of the clause (as in (1)),
where the focused constituent is "the potatoes". This option will be called low focus,
because it targets constituents that are located in the lower structure of the clause.
(1) Marta compró fue las papas.
Marta bought was the potatoes
'It was the potatoes that Marta bought.'
The same dialects have a construction with a demonstrative eso 'that', illustrated in (2).
This construction has the exact opposite distribution as the one in (1),
namely it targets constituents located high in the clause. In this talk,
I attempt to explain why this distribution is complementary,
proposing that they share a common discourse configuration related to how focus is expressed,
but that their different distribution comes from different syntactic properties: in the first case,
focus is associated with a clausal structure, in the second case, with a nominal phrase
(2) (Eso) La gente no respeta los semáforos (*eso).
DEM the people not respect the traffic-lights EXP
'People don't respect traffic-lights.'
The proposed analysis of these two constructions argue in favor of the representation of focus
using an assertion structure that includes a presupposition clause and a focus clause. At the same time,
the analysis of these two constructions provides a cautionary tale against taking complementary distributions
as an infallible method for determining direct connections between two linguistic items.