Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 325–349 | Cite as

Vietnamese focus particles and derivation by phase

  • Michael Yoshitaka ErlewineEmail author
Open Access


I show that the focus-sensitive operator chỉ, ‘only’ in Vietnamese is a sentential modifier and required to be as low as possible in its phase while taking its focus associate in its scope. I show that this “as low as possible” requirement cannot be violated even in order to yield a different meaning. Within a phase-based, bottom-up conception of structure-building, I analyze this behavior as the result of sentential focus particles adjoining as early as possible while being interpretable. The fact that this requirement only holds between different adjunction positions in each phase is naturally explained by the theory of derivation by phase (Chomsky 2000, 2001) and provides a new kind of evidence for this form of cyclic structure-building. This work also provides cross-linguistic support for one aspect of the controversial analysis of German focus particles as sentential modifiers (Jacobs 1983, 1986, Büring and Hartmann 2001), which similarly requires an “as low as possible” requirement on sentential focus particles.


Vietnamese Association with focus Sentential only Adverb placement Phases 


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Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English Language and LiteratureNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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