Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 683–734 | Cite as

Focus as prosodic alignment

  • Caroline Féry


This article demonstrates that the most common prosodic realization of focus can be subsumed typologically under the notion of alignment: a focused constituent is preferably aligned prosodically with the right or left edge of a prosodic domain the size of either a prosodic phrase or an intonation phrase. Languages have different strategies to fulfill alignment, some of which are illustrated in this paper: syntactic movement, cleft constructions, insertion of a prosodic boundary, and enhancement of existing boundaries. Additionally, morpheme insertion and pitch accent plus deaccenting can also be understood as ways of achieving alignment. None of these strategies is obligatory in any language. For a focus to be aligned is just a preference, not a necessary property, and higher-ranked constraints often block the fulfillment of alignment. A stronger focus, like a contrastive one, is more prone to be aligned than a weaker one, like an informational focus. Prominence, which has often been claimed to be the universal prosodic property of focus (see Truckenbrodt 2005 and Büring 2010 among others), may co-occur with alignment, as in the case of a right-aligned nuclear stress, but crucially, alignment is not equivalent to prominence. Rather, alignment is understood as a mean to separate constituents with different information structural roles in different prosodic domains, to ‘package’ them individually.


Focus Prosodic structure Syntax-phonology Typology Alignment 



This paper was first presented at the XXth Colloquium on Generative Grammar in Barcelona in March 2010, and I would like to thank the organizers, Josep Quer and Pilar Prieto, for giving me the opportunity to present my views on focus there. People who have had an influence on the content of this paper are numerous. Among them are Anja Arnhold, Kirsten Brock, Gisbert Fanselow, Fatima Hamlaoui, Shin Ishihara, Gerrit Kentner, Frank Kügler, Sara Myrberg, Fabian Schubö, Lisa Selkirk, Stavros Skopeteas and Malte Zimmermann. But this list is far from being exhaustive. I would also like to thank three reviewers for NLLT, two anonymous ones and Hubert Truckenbrodt, for generous and helpful comments on a first version of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Goethe-University FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany

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