Vietnamese focus particles and derivation by phase

Erlewine, Michael
November 2017
Journal of East Asian Linguistics;Nov2017, Vol. 26 Issue 4, p325
Academic Journal
I show that the focus-sensitive operator chỉ, 'only' in Vietnamese is a sentential modifier and required to be as low as possible in its phase while taking its focus associate in its scope. I show that this 'as low as possible' requirement cannot be violated even in order to yield a different meaning. Within a phase-based, bottom-up conception of structure-building, I analyze this behavior as the result of sentential focus particles adjoining as early as possible while being interpretable. The fact that this requirement only holds between different adjunction positions in each phase is naturally explained by the theory of derivation by phase (Chomsky 2000, 2001) and provides a new kind of evidence for this form of cyclic structure-building. This work also provides cross-linguistic support for one aspect of the controversial analysis of German focus particles as sentential modifiers (Jacobs 1983, 1986, Büring and Hartmann 2001), which similarly requires an 'as low as possible' requirement on sentential focus particles.


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