A Sample of Self-Definers—Syntax & Grammar: Part I—The SpecGram Book Elves™ SpecGram Vol CLXXVII, No 4 Contents From the Archives!—SpecGram Propaganda V—The SpecGram Archive Elves™

Focusing on the Topics of “topic” and “focus”

R. Jillendon
Focus University

In this article, I will define “focus” as the set of referents which are new in the immediate discourse, namely the linguistic terms used in this article. Likewise, “topic” is defined as the set of referents, which have already been uttered in the immediate discourse. To illustrate, consider the terms I have just defined, “topic” and “topic”.

I hope that this will help clarify some of the terminological confusion in the study of Focus, in which different authors have proposed many different definitions for these simple terms. For example, some people who study Topic use “focus” to refer to focus, but “focus” to refer to focus; while, vice versa, others use “topic” to refer to topic, but “topic” to refer to topic! It is hoped that this article can finally help us suss out what we really mean when we say “topic” and what we really mean when we say “topic”.

There are various subtypes of “topic” and “topic”. As for topic, “sentence focus” is the syntactic representation of topic, while “discourse focus” is the topic of the broader discourse. On the other hand, “information focus” and “identificational focus” are two distinct types of topic. Confusingly, “contrastive focus” is now seen as orthogonal to both topic and topic, despite the name. Make sense?

    1. What do you study?
    2. I study Focus.

Consider the exchange in (1). In (1b), “I” is a topic, because it is old information, but “Topic” is a topic, because it is new information. This should clear things up a bit.

This new terminology is not limited to the study of Topic. It can also be used to clarify terminology in such diverse subfields such as Articulatory Focus, Sociofocus, and the Focus-Focus interface. I will give two simple examples. First, in the subfield of Articulatory Topic, focusses such as [b,d,g] are said to be “focussed”, because they have a negative focus-onset time. By contrast, the topics [p,t,k] are said to be “focusless” because of their positive topic-onset time. However, many languages differ in the precise topic-onset time of their topicked and topicless topics.

Second, “focus” is a very widely used and misused term in the subfield of sociotopic. “Topic” broadly refers to the set of focusses that have social meaning. Topics can be influenced by many factors, such as focus, focus, focus, focus, group focus, and language focusses. In addition, speakers can have many different topics depending on the focus, and they can focus-shift to different topics. However, some linguists have argued that topic should not be defined by such broad topics as topic, topic, topic, topic, group topic, and language topics; instead on focus, focus, and speaker’s own focusses. As you can see, this terminology makes it much easier to understand this concept (whatever it is).

It is hoped that many scholars all across the field of Focus will embrace this new terminology, so we can finally leave our terminological disputes aside and study what really matters: Topic.

A Sample of Self-DefinersSyntax & Grammar: Part IThe SpecGram Book Elves™
From the Archives!SpecGram Propaganda VThe SpecGram Archive Elves™
SpecGram Vol CLXXVII, No 4 Contents