Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Department of African Studies

Predicate-centered focus types

Principal investigator:
Prof. Dr. Tom Güldemann

Dr. Ines Fiedler
Peggy Jacob, M.A. e-Mail:
Kiril Prokhorov, M.A., e-Mail:

Sophienstraße 22A
Raum 403

Unter den Linden 6
D-10099 Berlin

Phone: +49-30-2093 66103
Fax: +49-30-2093 6607

Student Assistent:
Ekaterina Levina
Mirko Tietgen
Karolina Zuchewicz


Website of the project

Collaborative Research Centre 632 (Sonderforschungsbereich, SFB) "Information structure: the linguistic means for structuring utterances, sentences and texts
Section B: "Language comparison and language change"
Projekt B7: "Predicate-centered focus types: A sample-based typological study in African languages"

While such notions as argument focus, topic, givenness and contrast have been playing a major role in the investigation of information structure, other functional concepts, such as verb-related focus or the thetic-categorical distinction, have, if at all, been investigated only sporadically or marginally. However, recent research (Hyman & Watters 1984, Güldemann 1996, 2003) has shown that these less frequently treated categories are highly relevant in a number of different languages with a great impact on their grammar. In continuation of the past SFB project B1, the project B7 will concentrate on one of these neglected subjects, namely so-called "predicate-centered focus types", and will study them in more detail by means of a controlled sample of African languages. Predicate-centered focus types subsume different categories which are typically tied semantically and morphosyntactically to the verb or predicate as the carrier of both proposition and illocution. These are focus on the lexical meaning of the verb (= "verb focus") and focus on predicate operators like the truth value of the utterance or such categories as tense, aspect, modality etc. (= "operator focus"). We will investigate which language-specific means are used in languages of the African continent to express predicate-centered focus types and how these are distinguished, both from each other and from other focus types with scope on nominal constituents (= "term focus"). This will be carried out on the basis of a planned language sample representing the four indigenous language groups and strives for representative typological profile of the continent. The study will use data collected in previous projects as well as from the secondary literature. For selected Nilo-Saharan languages primary data will be collected during field research. The overall goal is to model the interaction of predicate-centered focus types and other focus types with respect to form and function, taking the possible influence of typological and areal factors into account. Since the typological profile of African languages does not differ fundamentally from that of other continents, we expect that the research of the project also allows to draw new insights into information-structural systems of non-African languages, which in turn feeds into the general theory of information structure.