A Lao grammar for language learners by Pamela Sue Wright

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By Pamela Sue Wright

Lao Grammar for Language rookies, A

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22) Who did what to John? (23) What happened to John? As answer to (22), the sentence contains a multiple focus (Sue and kissed). This is an unproblematic case. As an answer to (23) however, the sentence raises a problem for compositional semantics. Sue and kissed form no syntactic constituent at any level of representation. This makes it impossible to single out the focus in order to lambda abstract over it. Krifka therefore introduces one more splitting induced through information packagingtopic–comment structures.

35) Most students were syntacticians. (36) Most students came from Europe. (37) Most students went to the party. The denotation of most students is different in every sentence. The set which is referred to in (35) contains only syntacticians. The set in (36) contains Margret, Ruben and Sylvia, who came from England, the Netherlands and Germany, respectively. They, however, are phonologists and as such they are excluded from being a member of the first set. Thus the set of individuals the quantifier most+NP refers to differs with respect to the predicate it is being applied to.

Otherwise, what-happened questions would only be allowed in situations where the speakers have no common ground at all, which is rarely, if ever case. As I will show later, this kind of equation leads to premature conclusions. It is true that presupposed material from the question cannot be used as the focus of the corresponding answer. (18) A: What happened to aunt Lisa? B: *Aunt LIsa died. However, it does not follow that everything contained in the answer which does not belong to the question must be focus or new information.

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