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Information Structure in Somali. Evidence from the syntax-phonology interface

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The correspondence between grammatical categories and prosodic events is widely acknowledged in the literature and a number of recent works have investigated the syntax–prosody interface and its relation to information structure. In this area of research, this paper provides an analysis of broad and narrow Focus constructions in Somali, based on a corpus of semi-spontaneous conversations between three native speakers of Somali.

Evidence is thus provided for a partition of the utterance into two major domains, one including the so-called Verbal Complex and the other the left periphery of the sentence – two interpretive domains that basically correspond to the vP- and CP-phase, consistent with Minimalist claims (Chomsky 2008). From a cartographic viewpoint, prosodic investigation supports the existence of a hierarchical organization of discourse-grammar categories in the C-domain. However, some internal refinement is required. In particular, functional heads concerning Focus and (different types of) Topic are shown to be fully part of the C-domain, while Fin(iteness)P – the functional projection connected with tense and agreement specifications (cf. Rizzi 1997) – belongs to the clausal domain. A reconsideration of what counts as the Complement of C (used as a cover term of the CP-phase) is therefore needed. Finally, intonation strongly supports a cleft-like analysis of narrow Focus constructions in languages like Somali. In particular, evidence is given for a predicative merge of the focused DP in a Small Clause construction and for the topicalized status of the (presupposed) relative DP. Attention is also paid to the intonation of yes-no questions, showing the necessity of different functional projections to activate interrogative force, according to scopal requirements.

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