Special Issue "Exploring the Role of Focus Alternatives in Language Production"

A special issue of Languages (ISSN 2226-471X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 28 February 2022.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Katharina Spalek
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of General Linguistics, Heinrich Heine University, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany
Interests: psycholinguistics; neurolinguistics; focus alternatives; language production; bilingualism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Focus indicates the importance of alternatives for the interpretation of an utterance (Krifka, 2008; see also Rooth, 1992). As Miss Marple explains to a bemused inspector Craddock in Agatha Christie’s murder mystery A Murder is Announced, the utterance “[She]F wasn’t there” (focus markings added by me) means something quite different from “She wasn’t [there]F”, because in the first case, the speaker would have had a person fixed in her mind, whereas in the second, a place. In this particular case, it is important that the culprit was not in the drawing room as everyone had thought, but in the hallway, shooting the murder victim. “Drawing room” and “hallway” are relevant focus alternatives.

In the past decade, a lot of research has been done on the online activation of focus alternatives in language comprehension (see Braun and Tagliapietra, 2010, and Husband and Ferreira, 2016, for two seminal studies). By contrast, much less is known about the role of focus alternatives in language production. The purpose of this Special Issue is to shed more light on this. There are three areas in particular where focus alternatives affect language production: 1. Pronunciation: How a given word in an utterance is pronounced depends on the presence or absence of alternatives to this word’s referent in the preceding context (see, for example, Sudhoff, 2010; Grice, Ritter, Niemann, and Roettger, 2017), 2. Discourse content: A discourse will continue differently when alternatives have been introduced previously than when no salient alternatives are present (e.g., Spalek and Zeldes, 2017). 3. It is an open question what happens in the mind of speakers when they decide to focus a given referent. Will they also activate alternatives, just as their listeners do when they encounter the focused element?

We invite contributions using quantitative data to address questions concerning the influence of focus alternatives on the manner or content of language production or explorations on the online activation of focus alternatives during language production. 

We request that, prior to submitting a manuscript, interested authors initially submit a proposed title and an abstract of 400–600 words summarizing their intended contribution. Please send it to the guest editor ([email protected]) or to the Languages editorial office ([email protected]). Abstracts will be reviewed by the guest editor for the purposes of ensuring proper fit within the scope of the Special Issue. Full manuscripts will undergo double-blind peer-review.

The tentative completion schedule is as follows:

  • Abstract submission deadline: 31 October 2021
  • Notification of abstract acceptance: 30 November 2021
  • Full manuscript deadline: 28 February 2022


Braun, B. & Tagliapietra, L. (2010). The role of contrastive intonation contours in the retrieval of contextual alternatives. Language and Cognitive Processes, 25, 1024-1043.

Christie, A. (1950). A murder is announced. London: William Collins & Sons.

Grice, M., Ritter, S., Niemann, H., & Roettger, T. B. (2017). Integrating the discreteness and continuity of intonational categories. Journal of Phonetics, 64, 90-107.

Husband, M. E., & Ferreira, F. (2016). The role of selection in the comprehension of focus alternatives. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, 31, 217-235.

Krifka, M. (2008). Basic notions of information structure. Acta Linguistica Hungarica, 55, 243-276.

Rooth, M. (1992). A theory of focus interpretation. Natural Language Semantics, 1, 75-116.

Spalek, K., & Zeldes, A. (2017). Converging evidence for the relevance of alternative sets: Data from NPs with focus sensitive particles in German. Language and Cognition, 9, 24-51.   

Sudhoff, S. (2010). Focus particles and contrast in German. Lingua, 120, 1458-1475.

Prof. Dr. Katharina Spalek
Guest Editor

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  • focus alternatives
  • language production
  • phonetics
  • prosody
  • discourse
  • corpus
  • online processing

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Added Alternatives in Spoken Interaction: A Corpus Study on German Auch
Languages 2021, 6(4), 169; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6040169 - 15 Oct 2021
Viewed by 134
Particles such as German auch (‘also’) establish an additive relation between expressions in their scope (added constituent, AC) and context alternatives against the background of shared information (common denominator). In spoken interaction, however, explicit alternatives are not necessarily present and expressions can be [...] Read more.
Particles such as German auch (‘also’) establish an additive relation between expressions in their scope (added constituent, AC) and context alternatives against the background of shared information (common denominator). In spoken interaction, however, explicit alternatives are not necessarily present and expressions can be construed as alternatives against different variants of a common denominator. It is the aim of the present paper to investigate to what extent the presence of alternatives influences the construction of utterances containing an additive particle. This is particularly relevant for German, where speakers can choose between an unstressed and stressed version of auch. We ask whether properties of the alternatives and their common denominators influence the choice to use stressed or unstressed auch. In a corpus study on spoken language, we classified the versions of auch, the particles AC, the alternatives in the preceding context and their common denominator. The results show that the speaker’s choice is influenced by the relation of the utterance to context alternatives. Specifically, the degree of explicitness of alternatives, the number of alternatives, and the degree of abstractness of the common denominator influence the continuation of the discourse, measured by the preference for one of the two variants of the particle auch. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring the Role of Focus Alternatives in Language Production)
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