14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-14)

San Francisco, CA, USA
August 1-7, 1999

The Phonological Representation of Accentual Focus in Some English and Spanish Utterances

Mercedes Cabrera-Abreu (1), María Luisa García-Lecumberri (2), John Maidment (3), Toyomi Takahasi (4)

(1) University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
(2) University of the Basque Country, Spain
(3) University College London, UK
(4) Surugadai University, Japan

Spanish utterances showing accentual focus on the verb, predicate, and object constituents consistently show that the focused accent is downstepped with respect to the accent to its left. As shown in García-Lecumberri, Cabrera-Abreu and Maidment [1] (henceforth García-Lecumberri et al.) in their description of utterances showing focus on the verb, a satisfactory account of such utterances in terms of Pierrehumbert [2] remains unclear, the major reason being that the distributional conditions of pitch accents imposed in Pierrehumbert's model for the account of downstep are not met.
   Following Cabrera-Abreu [3], in which the observed downstep in verb focus utterances is analysed as the presence of a toneless empty nucleus in phonological representation, in this paper, we propose to analyse predicate focus and object focus Spanish utterances in the same fashion. Thus, the prediction is made that a toneless empty nucleus together with an intonation group edge are responsible for the manifestation of focal domains in phonological structure
   By contrast, the main characteristic of English utterances is that they tend to show a single intonation group in their phonological structure, and downstep is not neccessarily a mark of focus.


  1. García-Lecumberri, M.L., Cabrera-Abreu, M., and Maidment, J.A. 1997. The realisation of focal accent in English and Spanish: similarities and differences. In Proceedings of an ESCA Workshop. Intonation: Theory, Models and Applications. Greece. Pp.: 141-143.
  2. Pierrehumbert, J. B. 1987. The Phonetics and Phonology of English intonation. Indiana Linguistics Club.
  3. Cabrera-Abreu, M. 1999. Phonological analysis of medial focal accent in Spanish and English. In Proceedings of the XXII AEDEAN Conference. Lleida.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Cabrera-Abreu, Mercedes / García-Lecumberri, María Luisa / Maidment, John / Takahasi, Toyomi (1999): "The phonological representation of accentual focus in some English and Spanish utterances", In ICPhS-14, 1761-1764.