Information Focus in French

Claire Beyssade, Barbara Hemforth, Jean-Marie Marandin and Cristel Portes, LLF. Université Paris Diderot

Our aim is to characterize the prosodic marking of Information Focus in French. Assuming as a working hypothesis that the Question/Answer pair yields a criterion to identify the information focus (IF) in utterances –the IF is that part of the content of answers that resolves the question– we set up three experiments whose results yield the empirical basis for the two claims we present here. The first one is descriptive. Phrases that resolve a question may be set off by two types of intonational marks: they host the nuclear contour (NC) on their right edge and/or they are prosodically highlighted (PH). The second one is theoretical. IF marking should be distinguished from question/answer congruence marking. NC placement is sensitive to the Focus-Ground partition of utterances, while prosodic highlighting (PH) is sensitive to any type of distinguishedness: semantic or pragmatic. As such, it is a wild card that can be used to cue the role of question-resolver that phrases play in answers and that, in line with the Focus-Ground partition or independently from it.