Predication and Information Structure: A Dynamic Account of Hungarian Pre-verbal Syntax
Wedgwood, Daniel J
Hungarian 'focus position' is typically thought of as a central example of a 'discourse configurational' phenomenon, since it not only involves the expression of information-structural (or 'discourse semantic') meaning through the manipulation of word order but also interacts syntactically with other elements of the sentence. In this thesis, I argue that this kind of phenomenon highlights fundamental theoretical problems with conventional assumptions about the relationships between linguistic form and different kinds of meaning and demonstrate that these problems have led to empirical inadequacies in the syntactic analysis of Hungarian. I propose an alternative analysis that makes use of a dynamic, incremental parsing-based approach to grammar, which in turn allows for the influence of inferential pragmatic operations (investigated in terms of Relevance Theory) at all stages in the process of interpreting linguistic form. This opens up possibilities of structural and interpretive underspecification that allow for the interpretation of the 'focus position' to be unified with the information-structural interpretation of sentences that do not contain a syntactically focused expression. This analysis explains the interaction of syntactic foci with other pre-verbal items. The burden of explanation is thus shifted away from specialised, abstract syntactic representations and onto independently necessary aspects of cognitive organisation. The use of 'discourse semantic' primitives---whether in terms of focus or exhaustivity---to encode the effects of the 'focus position' is shown to be both theoretically problematic and empirically inadequate. The information-structural meanings associated with the position must be viewed not as the input to interpretive processes but instead as the result of inferential processes performed in context. Reanalysis of the syntactic evidence shows the relevant position to be not merely pre-verbal, but underlyingly pre-tense, showing that the unmarked position of the main verb is essentially the same as that of syntactically focused expressions. This leads to an analysis whereby both 'neutral', topic-comment readings and cases of narrow focus emerge from inferences over a common interpretive procedure. This procedure is identified as 'main predication': the point in the parsing of a sentence at which the application of a single predicate effects the conversion of a mere description of an event into a truth-conditional assertion. Main predication is represented using neo-Davidsonian, event-based semantics (the effect of the main predicate being equivalent to that of the application of an existential quantifier over an event variable in the neo-Davidsonian approach) and made dynamic by the use of the epsilon calculus. This analysis predicts the postposing of any (otherwise pre-tense) 'verbal modifier' (VM) in the presence of a syntactic focus and the apparent information-structural ambiguity of VMs when they are pre-tense. Certain constraints on the distribution of quantifiers are also predicted, one such constraint being adequately characterisable only within a semantically underspecified, procedural account. The behaviour of the negative particle "nem" is also given a maximally simple explanation. The apparently variable scope of the negative operator is explicable without ad hoc syntactic mechanisms: the apparent wide scope reading associated with 'sentential' negation follows inferentially from narrow scope negation of temporal information. The syntactic positions of negation are predictable on this basis. In addition, the assumption of consistent narrow scope negation correctly predicts that VMs must postpose or receive a narrow focus reading in the presence of "nem".