The semantics of focus particles requires that they take their associating focus in their scope — a conclusion reinforced by the findings of my dissertation. And yet, there are apparent exceptions to this generalization. A particularly challenging class of such exceptions is where the focus particle is contained within its logical focus associate, a configuration which Kenyon Branan and I call anti-pied-piping. We have identified instances of anti-pied-piping in over 50 different languages from over 30 different genera, and show that anti-pied-piping affects both focus particle placement and focus movement and cannot be the result of a purely post-syntactic operation. We propose a theory of focus particles as late adjoined during cyclic Spell-Out — and focus movement parasitic on particle placement, as in Cable’s “Q-particle” theory — which unifies anti-pied-piping with better-studied pied-piping behavior.

  • Branan and Erlewine, 2022. “Anti-pied-piping.”  
    Manuscript, Leibniz Center for General Linguistics and the National University of Singapore.

I have studied the structural placement of focus particles, in particular exhaustive focus particles in Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese. I observe that in languages that allow sentential focus particles at different attachment heights on the clausal spine, there is a generalization that a focus particle must be as low as possible while c-commanding its associate, within a given phase. Jacobs (1983) and Büring & Hartmann (2001) describe the distribution of German focus adverbs in similar terms, but its cross-linguistic generality has not been explored and the nature of this “as low as possible” description has not been adequately studied. The sensitivity of this behavior to phase boundaries forms a new argument for the theory of phase-based, cyclic structure-building.

My student Keng Ji Chow and I have also investigated restrictions on the placement of exh, a covert exhaustive focus operator hypothesized to underly the introduction of scalar implicatures (SI) (Fox 2007, Chierchia et al. 2012, a.o.). Based on the interaction of SI with the presuppositions of also and again, we argue that, for some SI triggers, exh must be as low as possible while taking its trigger in its scope. Our work thus shows that covert exh exhibits syntactic parallels with overt sentential focus particles in German, Mandarin, and Vietnamese, as described above.

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