I have studied the structural placement of focus particles, in particular sentential ‘only’ words 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.

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, following Cable’s Q theory — which unifies anti-pied-piping with better-studied pied-piping behavior.

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