The Connection Between Focus and Implicatures: Investigating Alternative Activation Under Working Memory Load

  • Nicole Gotzner
  • Katharina Spalek
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition book series (PSPLC)


The function of focus is to activate alternatives which are used to compute the inferences arising from an utterance. The present research examines the relationship between the activation of alternatives and the computation of implicatures from an online language processing perspective. In particular, the authors test the activation of alternatives under working memory load, comparing intonational focus (different accent types: H* and L+H*) and overt focus operators (only and also). Their data show that contrastive focus intonation (L+H*) does not help alternative access under working memory load while it has been found to facilitate alternative access without a concurrent working memory task in Gotzner et al. (Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX, 2013, pp 2434–2440). In the case of the focus particle only alternatives are grammatically required and listeners showed an increased processing difficulty in accessing alternatives mentioned in the context. The authors discuss the implications of these findings on the role of focus intonation in activating alternatives and inference processing. In particular, they argue that part of the processing cost observed in implicature computation is due to the need to activate and contextually restrict a set of alternatives.


Focus operators Alternative semantics Contrastive intonation Exhaustive inferences Implicatures 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Gotzner
    • 1
  • Katharina Spalek
    • 2
  1. 1.Leibniz Center Allgemeine SprachwissenschaftBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Humboldt University BerlinBerlinGermany

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