Interfaces and Prosodic Prominence in Hungarian

Louise Mycock (Oxford)

Location: CURDS Seminar Room, 4th Floor, Claremont Bridge
Time/Date: 10th February 2010, 16:00 - 17:00


In this paper, I explore how prosody, syntax, information structure and semantics interact in Hungarian, a language in which specific syntactic positions are associated with certain types of quantifiers as well as discourse functions such as topic. The main empirical focus of this paper is the prosody of ‘non-neutral’ sentences in Hungarian (i.e. sentences which include at least one preverbal operator), and specifically the typical intonational contours associated with them. Assuming Hungarian sentence structure consists primarily of two units, namely the topic and the predicate, analysis of changes in pitch reveals a characteristic contour associated with the predicate part of a non-neutral sentence: the point of greatest prosodic prominence is realized as a sharp fall in pitch followed by a low plateau, and in certain cases the sharp fall is preceded by a high plateau.  

Crucial to any theoretical analysis of these Hungarian data is accounting for the location of the sharp fall in pitch in non-neutral sentences. The speech data elicited for this study do not support an account which posits a straightforward correspondence between syntactic focus and prosodic prominence (Szendrői 2003), nor one based on the claim that the leftmost phrase in the predicate is the point of greatest prosodic prominence (É. Kiss 2002). Rather, the crucial factor in determining the location of prosodic prominence in these data is identified as relating to meaning, specifically to scope, supporting the main insight of Hunyadi (2002). I argue that an analysis framed in terms of a parallel constraint-based architecture captures the relevant generalizations without suffering from the weaknesses identified in Hunyadi’s (2002) own analysis (Jackson 2008). 


É. Kiss, Katalin (2002). The Syntax of Hungarian. Cambridge, UK: CUP.

Hunyadi, László (2002). Hungarian Sentence Prosody and Universal Grammar: On the Prosody–Syntax Interface. New York: Peter Lang.

Jackson, Scott (2008). ‘The prosody–scope relation in Hungarian’. In Christopher Piñón & Szilárd Szentgyörgyi (eds.), Approaches to Hungarian 10. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. 83–102.

Szendrői, Krista (2003). ‘A stress-based approach to the syntax of Hungarian focus’. The Linguistic Review 20: 37–78.

Drinks and nibbles with the speaker will be held after the seminar in the CRiLLS room.


Dr SJ Hannahs
Reader in Linguistics

Published: 2nd December 2009