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Collaborative Research Centre 632 “Information Structure”

Predicate-centered focus types:
A sample-based typological study
in African languages

Project Phase I: 01.09.2009–30.06.2011


While such notions as argument focus, topic, givenness and contrast have been playing a major role in the investigation of information structure, other functional concepts, such as verb-related focus or the thetic-categorical distinction, have, if at all, been investigated only sporadically or marginally. However, recent research (Hyman & Watters 1984, Güldemann 1996, 2003) has shown that these less frequently treated categories are highly relevant in a number of different languages with a great impact on their grammar. In continuation of the past SFB project B1, the project B7 will concentrate on one of these neglected subjects, namely so-called “predicate-centered focus types”, and will study them in more detail by means of a controlled sample of African languages.

Predicate-centered focus types subsume different categories which are typically tied semantically and morphosyntactically to the verb or predicate as the carrier of both proposition and illocution. These are focus on the lexical meaning of the verb (= “verb focus”) and focus on predicate operators like the truth value of the utterance or such categories as tense, aspect, modality etc. (= “operator focus”).

We will investigate which language-specific means are used in languages of the African continent to express predicate-centered focus types and how these are distinguished, both from each other and from other focus types with scope on nominal constituents (= “term focus”). This will be carried out on the basis of a planned language sample representing the four indigenous language groups and strives for representative typological profile of the continent. The study will use data collected in previous projects as well as from the secondary literature. For selected Nilo-Saharan languages primary data will be collected during field research.

The overall goal is to model the interaction of predicate-centered focus types and other focus types with respect to form and function, taking the possible influence of typological and areal factors into account. Since the typological profile of African languages does not differ fundamentally from that of other continents, we expect that the research of the project also allows to draw new insights into information-structural systems of non-African languages, which in turn feeds into the general theory of information structure.

Project description in German (PDF)   Project poster (PDF)

Examined languages

Language family Language Word order Tone Morph. Type

1 Chadic Hausa SVO + synth.
2Berber Tamashek VSO - synth.
3 Semitic Amharic SOV -synth.
4 Cushitic Somali SOV + synth.
5 Omotic Gimira~Bench SOV + synth.

6 Saharan Kanuri SOV + aggl./synth.
7 Moru-Madi Ma’di SVO/SAuxOV + aggl./synth.
8 Bongo-Bagirmi Mbay SVO + aggl./synth.
9 Kuliak Ik VSO + aggl./synth.
10 Nilotic-Surmic Maa VSO + synth.
11 Songhai Koyraboro Senni SVO/SAuxOV - isol./aggl.
12 Nyimang Ama SOV + aggl.

13 North-Atlantic Wolof SVO - isol./aggl.
14 Mande Bambara SAuxOV Other + aggl.
15 Gur Supyire SVO + aggl.
16 Kwa Aja SVO + isol.
17 Benue-Kongo Emai SVO + aggl.
18 Benue-Kongo Makhuwa SVO + aggl.
19 Dogon Mombo SOV + aggl.

20Ju-ǂHoan Juǀ’hoan SVO + isol.
21 Khoe-Kwadi Namib. Khoekhoe SOV + isol./aggl.
22 Isolate Sandawe SOV + isol./aggl.