Daniel Büring

Professor of Linguistics
Uni Wien Linguistics Department


Büring 2016
A Beginner's Guide To Unalternative Semantics
open access, no publication planned

Assmann, Büring, Jordanoska & Prüller (2023)
Towards a Theory of Morphosyntactic Focus Marking
Natural Language and Linguistic Theory

Büring, Assmann, Jordanoska & Prüller 2021 "Relational Focus Semantics
ms. open access

Assmann, Büring, Jordanoska & Prüller 2019
Focus Size in Non-Prosodically Focus-Marking Languages
Proceedings of NELS 49

Büring 2019
Focus, Questions and Givenness
In: Questions in Discourse Volume 2: Pragmatics, ed. by von Heusinger, Onea and Zimmermann. 6-44.

Assmann, Büring, Jordanoska & Prüller 2018
Focus Constraints on Ellipsis - An Unalternatives Account
Proceedings of Sinn & Bedeutung 2017

Büring 2016
Discontinuous Foci and Unalternative Semantics
SinFonIJA8 paper, pulished in Linguistica LVI

Büring 2015
Unalternative Semantics
SALT25 paper

LaTeX Resources
A Latex source file that shows how to do the various typographical gimmics used with UAS

Unalternative Semantics

Unalternative semantics is the name of a new approach to modelling focus that I started to develop in early 2015. It introduces a new way of deriving focus alternatives from metrically annotated syntactic phrase markers, without the mediation of [F]-markers or other diacritics.

Like ‘classical’ alternative semantics, as developed by Mats Rooth, it derives sets of focus alternatives. The name ‘unalternative’ derives from the fact that, in its internal workings, it specifies what cannot be an alternative, and then eventually allows all alternatives that are not excluded by these restrictions.

Using three simple rules, focus alternatives of the familiar kind are derived, while certain problems such as over-focusing are automatically avoided.

To get a first idea of how this is done, see the Beginner's Guide paper. A full introduction and precise formalism, together with an application to English focus can be found in our 2021 paper "Relational Focus Semantics" (summarily rejected by Language because there are too many works on English focus it doesn't address, but still, I think, a sound and clear introduction to the ideas).

Our FWF funded research project "Unalternative Constraints Crosslinguistically" (2017-21) explored application of the UAS framework to other, mostly non-IE-languages. The resulting NALA paper (2023) doesn't include a full UAS implementation, but is clearly UAS oriented in spirit. A formal explication will have to await a later occasion, which is to say: will probably never happen.

One of the things UAS naturally derives are discontinuous foci. My SinFonIJA paper shows how this is done, and why it is not trivial to do when using F-marking.

Apart from deriving focus alternatives, UAS also explores new ways of interpreting focus. Again, the formalism is closely modelled on Rooth's, using a squiggle operator and all, but then changing the conditins on what can be the Focal Target, i.e., the contrasting meaning. A basic idea here is that focus is not anaphoric: the focal target need not be contextually given. Givenness, on the other hand, is pertinent only for what is called Prosodic Demotion, which subsumes things like accent-shift (or ‘deaccenting’, as it is sometimes called).

This aspect of UAS is the main topic of the Questions in Discourse paper. Note that the official formalism here is more complicated than in the other papers, since it derives sets of sets of unalternatives. The basic ideas and mechanisms, however, are the same. Alert readers may also notice that the exact formulation of the squiggle operator and the conditions that come with it differs among the three formal papers. This is one aspect that is still under construction, though, again, the gist of it, as outlined in the SALT and QUID papers, is stable.