Two types of focus in Castilian Spanish



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation proposes an experimental study of focus in Spanish, investigating, in particular, if two types of focus – Contrastive focus and Non-contrastive focus – are syntactically and prosodically distinguished. The evidence that the conceptual distinction between the focus subtypes can be represented linguistically has been found in languages (Drubig 2003, É. Kiss 1998, Gundel & Fretheim 2001, Zubizarreta 1998 to name a few). As for Spanish, Zubizarreta (1998) argued that the two types of focus most noticeably differ syntactically. While Non-contrastive Focus should appear at utterance-final position, Contrastive Focus may appear in-situ. Nevertheless, not all the studies seem to accept Zubizarreta’s (1998) syntax-oriented distinction between the two focus types. A few studies suggest that not only Contrastive Focus but also Non-Contrastive Focus can indeed occur sentence-internally (Cabrera Abreu & García Lecumberri 2003, Kim & Avelino 2003, Toledo 1989). Inspired by a handful of studies and motivated by empirical data gathered for the pilot study, the current study sets out to investigate Zubizarreta’s (1998) syntax-oriented claim on the distinction between the focus subtypes. Focus in Spanish is known to be prosodically marked by its particular intonational contour- higher pitch and the early peak, and secondarily longer duration and/or higher intensity, compared to unfocused elements in a given utterance (Cabrera Abreu & García Lecumberri 2003, Domínguez 2004a & b, Face 2000, 2001, 2002b, Hualde 2003, 2005, Kim & Avelino 2003, de la Mota 1995, 1997, Navarro Tomás 1918, Nibert 2000, Quilis 1971, Sosa 1998, Toledo 1989, Zubizarreta 1998). We assume that the distinction between the two types of focus would also be made using the existing cues, as suggested by a handful of studies on focus types (Cabrera Abreu & García Lecumberri 2003, Kim & Avelino 2003, Zubizarreta, 1998). The findings of our experiments clearly indicate that Spanish speakers consistently use different phonetic and phonological cues such as duration and pitch in order to make a distinction between the two types of focus. These findings give clear evidence that the pragmatically defined notion of focus (Lambrecht 1994) is indeed further divided into two types in Castilian Spanish, somewhat similar to the distinction made in English (Selkirk 1984, 1995).