Focus, phrase length, and the distribution of phrase-initial rises in French

James German, Laboratoire Parole et Language (UMR 6057 CNRS)
Mariapaola D’Imperio, Aix-Marseille I and Laboratoire Parole et Language (UMR 6057 CNRS)

This study addresses the relationship between information structure and intonation in French. More specifically, it tests whether phrase-initial rises (LHi) are associated with the left edge of contrastively focused constituents in wh-interrogatives. Since LHi distribution has also been correlated with length, the study further examines the relative contribution of constraints operating at two distinct levels: information structure and phonological structure. The results show that each set of constraints makes an independent contribution to the occurrence of LHi, but with no interaction. In other words, LHi is more likely to occur at the left edge of a contrastive focus domain, and more likely to occur in longer phrases, though phrase length does not influence the extent to which LHi marks focus. The findings of this study represent the first quantitative assessment of focus realization in French in a non-corrective context, and establish a previously undocumented link between LHi and discourse-level meaning.