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Focus and contrast in North-Eastern Siberia: On non-universality of categories


Matic,  Dejan
Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Matic, D. (2012). Focus and contrast in North-Eastern Siberia: On non-universality of categories. Talk presented at Atelier de morphosyntaxe. Laboratoire Dynamique du langage. Université de Lyon - CNRS, France. 2012-05-25.

The purpose of this talk is to investigate the cross-linguistic validity of the categories of information structure against the background of a moderate version of contextualism, i.e. the view according to which much of what we are used to think of as the linguistic meaning is a product of pragmatic inference, i.e. an interpretive effect, not an encoded denotation. In order to illustrate the analytical intricacies of information structure categories, data from two north-eastern Siberian languages, Tundra Yukaghir (isolate) and Even (North Tungusic) are presented. The ambiguity between focus marking and focus sensitivity is illustrated by the Even epistemic negatives, which occasionally interact with focus. The Tundra Yukaghir proclitic mer= shows how a morpheme whose meaning is best described as the realis mood can produce the impression of being a focus marker. The notion of contrast is elucidated with the help of the Even suffix –dmAr, which covers many areas of the average European contrast markers, but extends in its use far beyond them in the field of what I call paradigmatic contrast.