A note on contrast

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The semantics of association with focus and the pragmatic conditions governing the appropriateness of focus in discourse are usually taken to depend on focus alternatives. According to a common view, these alternatives are generated by a permissive process. This permissive view has been challenged by Michael Wagner, who has noted that certain alternatives are systematically excluded from consideration. Wagner describes a more restrictive view, on which only contrastive alternatives are relevant for association with focus and for the appropriateness of focus in discourse. I use recent work on the role of contradiction to show that the standard, permissive view derives the same results as the contrast-based view for the basic cases. These basic cases involve a contradiction that prevents us from using them to distinguish the two approaches. I show that when this contradiction is eliminated, evidence of non-contrastive alternatives emerges, supporting the permissive standard view over the restrictive contrast-based one.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-343
Number of pages11
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Contradiction
  • Contrast
  • Exhaustivity
  • Focus alternatives
  • Innocent exclusion


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