Gutzmann, Daniel & Katharina Hartmann & Lisa Matthewson. 2017. Verum focus is verum, not focus. Cross-linguistic evidence. Submitted.


The accent pattern known as verum focus is commonly understood as an ordinary alternative focus on the truth of a proposition. This standard view, which we call the focus accent thesis (FAT), can be contrasted with the lexical operator thesis (LOT), according to which the accent pattern that looks like focus in languages like German or English is actually not an instance of focus marking, but realizes a lexical verum operator, whose function is to relate the current proposition to a question under discussion. Although it is hard to distinguish between the FAT and LOT on the basis of German or English, a broader cross-linguistic perspective seems to favor the LOT. Drawing from fieldwork on Tsimshianic (Gitksan) and Chadic (Bura, South Marghi, Hausa), we first show that in none of these languages is verum realized in the same way that ordinary alternative focus is marked in these languages. This sheds doubt on the unity of verum and focus and hence speaks against the FAT. Secondly, the FAT predicts that a language cannot have co-occuring verum and focus, if it does not allow multiple foci, and that a language should allow them to co-occur if it allows for multiple foci. Again, while it is hard to find counterexamples in German or English, the data from our cross-linguistic investigation favors the LOT.