Topic and focus


The topic is an optional part of every clause where that which the clause is “about” is specified. The material which is placed in the topic may or may not also appear as an argument within the clause. The topic is followed by the particle , which separates it from the following verbal complex.

The topic is also a common place for introducing quantified expressions in order to be able to access them later in the sentence with the correct scope.

Placing sa rảı lower in the sentence would not give the desired meaning:

While the desire is about a specific action in the first example, the speaker’s desire in the latter example would be satisfied by any action. The latter example is equivalent to:

which places the quantified expression in the topic of the subordinate clause, thereby changing the meaning.

Here is a slightly more complex example:


Focus is the part of a sentence that contains new or contrasting information. When you know that someone ate your last remaining banana, but not who did it, and I say to you “I ate the banana” (or “It was me who ate the banana”), the fact that someone ate the banana is known information, and the fact that it was me as opposed to someone else who did the eating is new information and carries what is called the focus of the sentence.

In natural languages this is typically marked prosodically by placing an accent (i.e., spoken emphasis) on the constituent that contains new information, and sometimes syntactically, for example by using cleft sentences. Toaq instead uses the particle ku, which is placed before the focus constituent:

Compared to the same sentence without ku, where the known or presupposed information is that there is a banana and myself, and the claim is that the relation that holds between those things is one of eating, the version with ku causes a change in information structure. What used to be presupposed is now marked as new information, and what used to be new information (the verb) is now presupposed.

A possible way of reasoning about this is the following paraphrase:

Since ku marks new information, it is also the appropriate way of answering wh-questions. If asked Chủq súq hı rảı moq? "What are you eating?", the proper answer would be ku máoja "the bananaFoc"

ku expresses what is known as non-contrastive focus. There is also contrastive focus (beı). Contrastive focus implies the negation of at least one alternative proposition. The prototypical example of when contrastive focus occurs is when correcting someone else's statement. For example, if A says "You ate the apple", then B might answer:

Focusing adverbs

Apart from ku and beı, there are also so-called focusing adverbs, a name which is based on the fact that their English equivalents involve adverbs that interact with focus. In Toaq, they don't involve any actual adverbs and there are instead different ways of realizing focus, depending on the "adverb". The following focusing adverbs exist:

tou “only”
mao “also”
juaq “even”

In English, there exist pairs of sentences like "I only gave a bananaFoc to you" vs "I only gave a banana to youFoc", where the position of focus (expressed prosodically via stress) interacts with the adverb "only" to give different meanings. This dependency is also known as association with focus.

In Toaq, the situation is simpler: the focusing adverb is simply placed in front of the focused constituent, just like with ku. One can think of this as inflected focus marking.

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