Syntactic Structure + Prosodic Prominence

Phrasal/Focal stress and the role of syntactic structure

The phrasal stress placement operation (aka the Nuclear Stress Rule, NSR) is well understood take as its input the output of syntax. Though many assume this input to be a linearized, one-dimensional string, this assumption does not follow from anything principled, and recent work argues that instead it operates on a multi-dimensional hierarchical output. My work in this domain investigates putative exceptions to the NSR, and ultimately finds that none of them are exceptions, but instead provide insight into more articulated syntactic structure.

As for focus stress placement, a robust generalization (assumed by many scholars, under different names) is that prosodic focus marking in languages like English must be contained within the domain of semantic focus alternatives. (e.g., Focus accents must be contained within semantically focused words.) Ahn and Sailor 2018 surveys some contexts where the domain of semantic focus maps onto phonological content that cannot support prosodic focus marking, finding that this sort of configuration leads to (apparent) semantics-phonology mismatches.

Ahn, Jeong & Sailor in press further explores a particular phenomenon in this domain, where focus accents arise on stressless word-final syllables as in “may”, where the focus pitch accent falls on the (unstressed) /bi/ syllable.
A pitch track showing the focus accent falling on an unstressed syllable

some work in this project

  1. Ahn, Byron, Sunwoo Jeong & Craig Sailor. In Press. Systematic ‘stray’ focus stress in English? ApparentLY! In WCCFL 39 Proceedings, Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
  2. Ahn, Byron, Sunwoo Jeong & Craig Sailor. 2021, March. Emphatic weak certainty in English: focus at the syntax-semantics/-phonology interfaces. Talk presented at Princeton Symposium on Syntactic Theory 2021. Princeton University.
  3. Ahn, Byron & Craig Sailor. 2019, April. The Role of Syntax in Semantics-Prosody Misalignments. Talk presented at PSST 2019. Princeton University.
  4. Ahn, Byron & Craig Sailor. 2019, January. The landscape of semantics-prosody mismatches. Talk presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the LSA. New York, NY.
  5. Ahn, Byron & Craig Sailor. 2018, September. Principled mismatches in the mapping from semantics to prosody. Talk presented at 2018 Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain. Sheffield, UK.
  6. Ahn, Byron. 2016. The Role of Syntax in the Nuclear Stress Rule. In Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2016, 203–206. International Speech Communication Association.
  7. Ahn, Byron. 2015. There’s Nothing Exceptional about the Phrasal Stress Rule. lingBuzz/002458.
  8. Ahn, Byron. 2015. Giving Reflexivity a Voice: Twin Reflexives in English. UCLA dissertation.
  9. Ahn, Byron & Dominique Sportiche. 2014. Bind Locally Indeed. In Carson T. Schütze & Linnaea Stockall (eds.), Connectedness: Papers by and for Sarah VanWagenen, Vol. 18, 61–69.
  10. Ahn, Byron. 2012, January. The Prosody of Binding: Reflexive Voice and Default Sentential Stress. Talk presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the LSA, Portland, OR.
  11. Ahn, Byron. 2012. External Argument Focus and the Syntax of Reflexivity. Coyote Papers: Working Papers in Linguistics, Linguistic Theory at the University of Arizona 20.
  12. Ahn, Byron. 2010. Not Just Emphatic Reflexives Themselves: Their Prosody, Semantics and Syntax. UCLA dissertation.