The definition of Focus in the framework of the Language into Act Theory (LAT) (Emanuela Cresti – LABLITA, UniFi)

The primary information structure of the utterance is the Topic-Comment pattern.
The information units (IUs) taking part to this structure behave as “linguistic islands” (Cresti & Moneglia 2010), i.e. they are related by an informational relation but their linguistic material is not bound across the IU boundaries by both syntactic and semantic relations. More specifically, a Topic IU and a Comment IU are linked through a relation of “pragmatic aboutness” within the utterance and each IU is a local syntactic configuration and a semantic compositional entity. The communication will present evidences of the above assumptions through the interpretation of spontaneous speech utterances.
In the LAT perspective, the semantics of both Topic and Comment IUs implies various levels of representation and Focus is a “high level” semantic function. This hypothesis has several implications:
a)      first of all, despite the fact that the two concepts of Focus and Comment may collapse in a lot of influential literature (Chomsky 1972, Jackendoff 1972, Lambrecht 1994) , the concept of Focus must be distinguished from that of Comment, given that the nature of the last one is informational and based on a pragmatic function (accomplishement of illocution, Cresti 2000), while the former belongs to the locutive act and to the semantic structure of each IU;
b)      this explains the distribution of Focus: since a Focus is a “simple” semantic function, regarding one level of the semantic structure, it is not forbidden its occurrence also in a Topic semantic island (fuori dall' asse ereditario /=TOP= che cosa vuol <dire> ?=COM= ‘out of the hereditament, what does it mean’; se ce n' è ancora /=TOP= uno //=COM= ‘if there are some more, one yes’);
c)       actually Focus is a necessary semantic feature of both Topic and Comment IUs, depending on their peculiar informational nature, consequently we claim the existence of a topic Focus and a comment Focus;
d)     the topic Focus and the comment Focus develop different semantic functions, the first one corresponding to a conclusive cognitive function and the second to an attention alerting function;
e)      Focus is necessarily marked by prosody (perceptual prominence);
f)       given that every Topic IU is performed by a prosodic unit (prefix) with a prominence at its end, if there is a Topic IU there is a prosodic prominence marking a topical Focus;
g)       in spite of the assumption of the most part of the literature, that makes the hypothesis of a Contrastive Focus in the case of topical Focus (Büring 2003), topic Focus is unmarked from this point of view.
h)      given that there cannot be a Topic IU without a Focus (the same is valid for Comment) and given that nearly 10% of utterances records more than one Topic IU, an utterance can record even three (or more) Foci (la maggior parte /=TOP= […] quelli che hanno portato Pinocchio /=TOP= va proprio bene quello che hanno //=COM= ‘the most part, those who brought Pinocchio, it is all right’).
The talk will illustrate the semantic definition of topic Focus and comment Focus within LAT, arguing against assumptions based on the “Common Ground” hypothesis (Stalnaker 1974) and the semantic determination of the Focus through the context (Krifka 2006).
The detection of Focus prominence will be exemplified with two different methods:
Prominence detection based on manual syllabic segmentation (Gagliardi 2009, Tamburini 2005 ; Ph. Martin 2010).
Cresti Emanuela (2000), Corpus di italiano parlato, Accademia della Crusca, Firenze
Cresti&Moneglia (2010), Informational patterning theory and the corpus-based description of spoken language. The compositionality issue in the Topic-Comment pattern, in Moneglia, Panunzi (eds), Bootstrapping information from corpora in a coss-linguistic perspective, FUP, Firenze, pp. 13-45
Büring Daniel (2003), On D-trees,beans, and B-accent, in “Linguistics and Phyosophy “ 26, pp511-545.
Jackendoff Ray (1972), Semantics in generative grammar, MIT Press, Cambridge
Lambrecht Knud (1994), Information structure and sentence form, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Stalnaker Robert (1974), Pragmtic presupposition, in Milton, Munitz, Unger (eds) Semantics and Philosophy, Newyotk University Press, NewYork, pp197-214
Krifka Manfred (2006), Basic notions on information structure, in Féry, Fanselow, Krifka (eds), Interdisciplinary studies on information structure, and in “Acta Linguistica Hungarica”, 55.
Gagliardi Gloria (2009), Correlati fonetico-acustici dell’informatività, Tesi di Laurea, Università di Bologna
Tamburini F. (2005), Identificazione automatica della prominenza frasale nel linguaggio parlato, in Cosi P. (acd), Misura di Parametri. 1° Convegno nazionale AISV, EDKeditore, Brescia, pp 725-754
Martin Philippe (2010), Prominence detection without syllabic segmentation , in Speech Prosody, Satellite work-shop on prosodic prominence,