A modular approach to focus intervention effects

Ciyang Qing, Stanford University


Alternative semantics has been used to analyze a variety of phenomena such as questions and focus sensitivity. However, these analyses involve different conceptions of alternatives and it is often non-trivial to combine them and investigate how they would interact. In this talk, I present a modular approach (inspired by Charlow 2014, 2017) to combine Hamblin/Kratzer-Shimoyama style question/wh-indeterminate semantics and Rooth’s focus semantics. According to this approach, the semantic system is layered, and the analysis of each individual phenomenon makes use of type transformers, i.e., recipes that specify how one can systematically build more complex types and semantic representations on top of simpler ones.

Such a modular approach provides a novel and principled analysis of how questions and focus sensitivity would interact, i.e., focus intervention effects. I will first show that it captures the basic pattern in Li & Law 2016. Moreover, I will discuss three Mandarin constructions with the preverbal focus-sensitive particle dou and show how the semantic system can be further extended in a modular way to provide a unified semantic account of the constructions' seemingly idiosyncratic ordering restrictions in terms of various intervention effects.