"Discourse features", syntactic displacement and the status of contrast

Julia Horvath*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contrast and its syntactic correlates, various contrastive focus and contrastive topic movements, are investigated from the perspective of a hypothesis constraining the set of formal features active in the computational system (CHL). I propose a Strong Modularity Hypothesis for Discourse Features, according to which no discourse notion can be encoded by formal features. In contrast to currently prevalent cartographic approaches, it claims that only truth-conditional notions may constitute formal features active in the CHL. Movements corresponding to non-truth-conditional notions, such as notions of information structure, must thus be interface phenomena, rather than driven by a feature-checking mechanism. To test this hypothesis, the paper investigates (a) the so-called contrastive focus movement, well-known from Hungarian, involving exhaustive identification, and (b) a distinct class of widely attested contrast-related movements - contrastive topic and contrastive focus movements - that involve a closed set whose members are explicit in the context, and have no entailment of exhaustivity. The distinct types of discourse-related, and in particular contrast-related, movements analyzed are argued to be due, respectively, to (a) an independent quantificational operator of the CHL, such as the truth-conditional maximality operator motivated for Hungarian, or (b) interface effects, such as accommodation of nuclear stress assignment or facilitation of the mapping of syntactic representations to information structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1346-1369
Number of pages24
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Contrastive focus
  • Contrastive topic
  • Exhaustive identification
  • Feature-driven movement
  • Focus movements
  • Formal features
  • Hungarian
  • Information structure
  • Modularity hypothesis
  • Syntax-information structure interface


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