Focus particles such as only, even, and also relate the current utterance to other alternatives in the discourse. While particles with these three, well-studied functions are common in language of the world, their precise semantics can vary, and languages also have particles which express different meanings, or meanings which cross-cut these common categories. My own work has studied unique focus particles in Burmese and Tibetan.

My student Keely New and I have investigated the Burmese focus particle hma, which expresses exhaustivity in some contexts but a scalar, even-like meaning in other contexts. We propose that hma is uniformly a not-at-issue scalar exhaustive, and derive these two uses through a scope ambiguity with respect to negation. We also analyze the relationship between hma and the sentence-final mood marker dar as an instance of pragmatic focus concord, best explained through the interaction of these particles’ independent semantics, rather than the result of morphosyntactic agreement.

In recent work, I have studied the Tibetan particle yin.n’ang. Yin.n’ang has three uses: (a) as a counterexpectational discourse particle (like English ‘but’ or ‘however’), (b) as a scalar concessive particle, and (c) to form free choice items with wh-words. Morphologically, yin.n’ang is transparently the combination of a copular verb, conditional ending, and scalar particle (e.g. ‘even’). I develop a compositional semantics for three functions from these ingredients, and also advocate for the extension of this approach to Japanese demo which has a similar distribution and (historical) morphological makeup.

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