Focus, Presupposition, and Propositional Attitude

  • Yasuo Nakayama
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 4012)


A focus in an uttered sentence is the word of greatest prosodic prominence in the sentence. Most formal frameworks of focus are based on Hamblin’s theory of questions, which represents a question as the set of possible answers (cf. [2]). Contrary to these approaches, this paper proposes a formal theory of focus in which propositional attitudes of communication partners play a crucial role. The central hypothesis of this theory is the following:

S uses focus either for information supply or for correction, namely

(a) in order to give H particular information that H would need or

(b) in order to point out something false about H’s belief.

Hence, when S uses focus,

(a) S presupposes that H lacks particular information or

(b) S presupposes that H believes something false.

These speaker’s presuppositions can be specified by using discourse congruence, namely question-answer congruence indicates presupposition (a) and binary contrast indicates presupposition (b). In this paper, I will show how to describe problems related to interpretation of focus, such as question-answer congruence, binary contrast, contrast in discourse structure, partial negation, and focal presupposition.


Information Supply Partial Negation Propositional Attitude Discourse Structure Dynamic Semantic 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Jackendoff, R.: Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. MIT Press, Cambridge (1972)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kadmon, N.: Formal Pragmatics - Semantics, Pragmatics, Presupposition, and Focus. Blackwell, Malden (2001)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Nakayama, Y.: Dynamic Interpretations and Interpreation Structures. In: Proceedings of the International Workshop on Logic and Engineering of Natural Language Semantics, pp. 25–35 (2004)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rooth, M.: Association with Focus, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1985)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Umbach, C.: On the Notion of Contrast in Information Structure and Discourse Structure. Journal of Semantics 21, 155–175 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yasuo Nakayama
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Human SciencesOsaka UniversityOsakaJapan

Personalised recommendations