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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U060-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Focus is the name of the phenomenon we typically see marked in English by putting stress on a word or phrase, as in:

  • (1) John kissed JANE.

Focus triggers a number of effects. It indicates contrast. Sentence (1) indicates that John kissed Jane as opposed to Sally or Yolanda. This is typically described as a pragmatic effect, resulting from the way the content of the sentence is presented. But in some important cases, focus can affect the truth conditions of sentences, and so must be in part a semantic phenomenon. Focus also affects where and how ellipsis works, and so it relates to syntax as well. Finally, focus affects whether an answer to a question is felicitous. Answers to questions with the focus in the wrong place sound decidedly odd to speakers. Patterns of questions and answers often show how discourses are organized, and so focus plays an important role in discourse structure. Focus is thus a locus of interaction for major components of language, including pragmatics and discourse, semantics, syntax and phonology. As such it has been of interest to linguists, and to philosophers of language interested in how these components of language may be delineated and how they interact. Effects like contrast and felicity of question-answer pairs have also made focus of interest to philosophers interested in explanation and knowledge.

Citing this article:
Glanzberg, Michael. Focus, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U060-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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