Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 87-93
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 87
Prosody and Quantifier Float in Japanese
Kenji Yokota
College of Industrial Technology, Nihon University, Japan
Received December 9th, 2012; revised January 2nd, 2013; accepted January 10th, 2013
The paper investigates the information structure that licenses the Japanese floating numeral quantifier
(FNQ) in terms of prosody and context from the point of view that the pitch reset on the FNQ affects the
information structure and plays a crucial role in determining the interpretation of the FNQ. I will show
that FNQ sentences are potentially ambiguous between an event-quantifier reading (i.e., a VP-related
FNQ reading), and an object-quantifier reading (i.e., an NP-related FNQ reading) where such a reading is
possible. The syntactic and semantic difference yields distinct prosodic phrasings (in accordance with in-
formation-structure) which contribute to the disambiguation of the two readings (and hence the gram-
Keywords: Floating Numeral Quantifiers; Japanese; Prosody; Syntax; Information Structure
Discourse effects supposedly affecting the processing of the
floating numeral quantifier (hereafter, FNQ) construction in
Japanese is not yet known1. Through the examination of FNQ
interpretation, this paper argues that the Japanese FNQ should
be defined as an instance of expressing a discourse relation,
with an emphasis on the nature of its prosodic realization in a
given discourse2. Most previous analyses of Japanese FNQ
constructions appear problematic because relevant data are
given in isolation without contexts. The present study instead
shows that interpretational ambiguity between distributive and
non-distributive readings is affected by contextual effects. To
be more specific, the important aspect of my proposal is the
relation between structure (along with meaning) and intonation
(along with context). Given that information structure has clear
effects on FNQ interpretation, it will be premature to conclude
that the FNQ construction is categorized as a VP-adverb and
necessarily yields a distributive reading (Gunji & Hasida, 1998;
Kobuchi, 2003; Nakanishi, 2004, among others). I instead sug-
gest that much more serious attention needs to be paid to pro-
sodic structure than usually exercised in conducting tests for
judgments of acceptability (Fodor, 2002; Kitagawa & Fodor,
2006), which lends support to a prosodic-based account that
explains in a straightforward way FNQ constructions as in-
stances of information structure3. The contents of the paper are
as follows: In Section 2, I describe problems and issues with
previous studies. Section 3, I focus on the interpretational facts
observed in FNQ constructions. Section 4 discusses effects of
prosody on the construction. Section 5 concludes the paper.
In this section, I discuss the issues to be explored in this pa-
per. There have been two major contradictory views concerning
Japanese FNQs. One is that the FNQs observe syntactic locality
(e.g., mutual c-command) with its associated NP (Haig, 1980;
Kuroda, 1980; Miyagawa, 1981; Miyagawa & Arikawa, 2007,
among others), the other is that FNQs are predicate modifiers
and free from such locality (Kuno, 1978; Fukushima, 1991;
Gunji & Hasida, 1998; Takami, 1998; Kobuchi, 2003; Naka-
nishi, 2007, 2008, among others). The current study assumes
that both insights are to be bonded to each other for the purpose
of meeting the need for the adequate analysis of Japanese FNQ
interpretation. What we need to consider is the fact that in some
cases FNQs generate event-related readings, and in others they
produce object-related readings. FNQ expressions, unlike the
common assumption mentioned above, do not necessarily force
a distributive interpretation in terms of reference to objects (or
agenthood) or events (or situations). Under the definition rely-
ing on events, in Kitagawa and Kuroda’s (1992) sense, the dis-
tributive property necessarily implies the occurrence of multi-
ple events as shown in 1a), while the non-distributive construal
implies the occurrence of only a single event as in 1b).
1) a) Kono isshuukan no aidani shuujin ga san-nin
this one week GEN during prisoner NOM three-CL
nigedashita. [Distributive]
“There have been three jailbreaks this week.”
b) Sonotoki totsuzen shuujin ga san-nin
then suddenly prisoner NOM three-CL
abaredashita. [Non-distributive]
1The term “float” does not have a precise self-evident definition. I will use it
essentially as a convenient label (or a figurative expression) for the gram-
matical phenomenon in question, partly because it is widespread in the
2Unless otherwise noted, FNQs refer to Japanese subject-oriented (or sub-
ect-related) FNQs in this paper.
3Information structure can, in principle, have an immediate influence on
relational syntactic processing (see, e.g., Steedman, 2000).
started to act violently
“Then, a group of three prisoners suddenly started to act
(Kitagawa & Kuroda, 1992: p. 50)
Whether we define the meaning of a “distributive reading” in
terms of properties of individual objects or events, their obser-
vation seems correct and still deserves careful attention. Gen-
eration of non-distributive interpretations, as exemplified in 1b)
suggests that the previous account assuming that all FNQs ob-
ligatorily function as a verb modifier, and quantifies over ev-
ents and always yields distributivity are in need of modifica-
tion before it is able to incorporate these facts.
In recent studies working on syntax and semantics of Japa-
nese quantifier float, Nakanishi (2007, 2008) reports prosodic
effects as illustrated in 2) (see also Kitagawa & Kuroda, 1992;
Fujita, 1994; Kobuchi, 2003)4. There are significant semantic
differences between the two. Nakanishi notes sentence 2) is
ambiguous between distributive 2a) and non-distributive (e.g.,
collective) 2b) readings without a boundary, whereas it only
allows a distributive reading with a boundary 2a). In her ac-
count, the two structures are disambiguated by distinctive pitch
patterns, whether or not pauses are present right after the sub-
ject NP.
2) [NP Gakusei ga] (//) go-nin tsukue o mochiage-ta.
student NOM five-CL desk ACC lift-Past
a) “Five (of the) students lifted a desk (individually).”
(Distributive interpretation)
b) “Five students lifted a desk (together).”
(Non-distributive interpretation)
Nakanishi’s claim, however, is not sufficient to explain the
nature of FNQ construal. As shown below, such ambiguity
seems to be very common, and have a direct bearing on the in-
formation structure. Silent reading of sentences such as 2) may
permit a different range of interpretations from actually pro-
nounced examples, but that range is still controlled by prosody
(see Kitagawa & Fodor, 2006 for further discussion). I will
show that this follows from the interaction between intonation
and structure, and that prosody and context appear to be as
important as syntax for the interpretation of FNQ sentences.
Observations in 2) enable us to assume that intonation often
determines which of the many possible bracketing permitted by
the syntax of Japanese is intended, and that the interpretations
of the constituents may be related to distinctions of informa-
tion-structural significance among the concepts/intention that
the speaker has in mind (Steedman, 2000: p. 51). I will provide
a basis for this assumption in what follows. The core of my
analysis developed in what follows is that in regard to the in-
terpretation of FNQ sentences, semantics in principle generates
both distributive and non-distributive readings, and the prefer-
ence is determined by discourse factors.
Syntactic and Semantic Considerations
It is generally agreed that prosodic grouping is crucial in un-
derstanding syntactic (licensing) relations (see, e.g., Selkirk,
1995; Steedman, 2000; Ishihara, 2011). Given this assumption,
I will first provide the syntactic and semantic foundation for an
analysis of Japanese FNQ constructions, which offers basic
assumptions necessary for the discussion in subsequent sec-
Following Ishii (1998, 1999) and Yokota (2009), I propose
that there are (at least) two types of FNQs in Japanese: NP-
related FNQs and VP-related ones. The FNQ in 2) presumably
occurs either within a nominal domain or within a verbal do-
main. Note that this FNQ expression is clearly differentiated
from NP-local numeral quantifiers (Non-FNQs in our terms),
which has both distributive and non-distributive readings5.
3) [Go-nin no gakusei ga] tsukue o mochiage-ta.
five-CL GEN student NOM desk ACC lift-Past
(Distributive and Non-distributive)
In her serial works, Nakanishi contends that all FNQs quan-
tify over events and hence produces a distributive interpretation.
However, it should be noticed that Nakanishi (2007: p. 76) only
states that FNQ constructions permit collective readings (non-
distributive in our terms) in certain environments.
Limiting the discussion to the subject-oriented FNQ in this
study, as exemplified in 2), it can be said that FNQ sentences
are ambiguous between i) the event-related reading (i.e., VP-
related FNQ), and ii) the object-related reading (i.e., NP-related
FNQ) where possible. My claim is that the two structures can
be disambiguated by distinctive pitch patterns. With regard to
FNQ construal, a preferred reading is selected with the help of
prosody (in accordance with the information structure) from a
set of possible readings available, indicated by the characteris-
tic semantic features such as (±distributive, ±partitive). Possi-
ble structures that we are assuming look like 4):
4) Syntactic structures of 2):
[NP Gakusei ga] (//) go-nin tsukue o mochiage-ta. (= 2))
student NOM five-CL desk ACC lift-Past
a) [NP3 [NP1 gakusei ga] [NP2 go-nin]] [VP tsukue o mochiageta]
NP-related FNQ: {(part +dist), (part dist)}
b) [NP1 gakusei ga] [VP [NP2 go-nin] tsukue o mochiageta]
VP-related FNQ: {(+part +dist), (+part dist)}
c) [NP1 gakusei ga] [NP3 [NP2 go-nin]] [VP tsukue o mochiageta]
NP-related FNQ: {(part dist), (part +dist)}
As indicated in 4), the FNQ sentence in principle allows for a
range of interpretations. To provide semantic basis for this syn-
tactic analysis, I will argue for a two-way distinction in the
interpretation of FNQs, depending on their syntactic positions,
as (4a-c) illustrate. As an alternative to the FNQ-as-adverb’s
view (Gunji & Hasida, 1998; Kobuchi, 2003, 2007; Nakanishi,
2004, 2007, 2008, among others), I propose that sentences like
2) potentially have more than one syntactic structure in which
the FNQ forms a constituent with the host NP (hence, an
NP-related reading), while it forms a constituent with the verbal
predicate (hence, a VP-adverbial reading).
Syntactically speaking, example 4) is ambiguous in that it
has at least three syntactic structures, as shown in (4a-c). The
FNQ in 4b) lies in VP as a VP-adverb and thus functions as a
VP-related quantifier (and hence, quantification is computed
5I will not take a particular position on how those constructions are best
analysed syntactically. Rather, our interest is in their semantic/functional
roperties, and more importantly in their use by speakers for the purpose o
structuring information in discourse. Note that this is not to say that syntac-
tic structure is irrelevant, but rather that it is relevant only indirectly, since
syntactic information is referred to in the construction of the various pro-
sodic constituents above the word level (Selkirk, 1995; Steedman,2000).
The main point in the current study is that an awareness of prosodic patterns
can further our understanding of the use of FNQ expressions in several
4A numeral quantifier is shown in italic and its host noun in boldface
throughout the paper. The abbreviation Cl stands for classifier. The symbol
// indicates a pause, corresponding to a prosodic boundary (see 8).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
within VP) as the above-mentioned researchers claimed. The
binary features [+/part] and [+/dist] can exhaustively define
the Japanese FNQ construction that we explore. Both partitivity
and distributivity play a role in the interpretation of FNQ sen-
tences; four readings in principle are expected: i) (+part, +dist);
ii) (+part, dist); iii) (part, +dist); iv) (part, dist), which are
indicated in the second lines of the structures, as shown in
(4.1a-c) below.
The quantifier in 4a) is part of (larger) NP gakusei ga san-nin
“three students” constituting a single syntactic constituent. That
is, it is a single nominal projection headed by a quantifier
(Kamio, 1977; Yatabe, 1993; Fukushima, 2007). In particular,
4c) is newly attested and argued for in this study. The structure
of 4c), which is considered a variant of 4a), is essentially the
same as that of 4b) in the sense that the FNQ and its associate
NP are split in morphosyntactic constituency. A notable differ-
ence, however, lies in that the FNQ as in 4c) is semantically
responsible for NP (i.e., object-quantifier), while the FNQ as in
4b) is for VP (i.e., event-quantifier), hence giving rise to dif-
ferences in interpretation.
In 4c), the subject NP presumably has been fronted (or
transferred) without altering its semantic content and is thus
separated from the associated FNQ (hence situated outside the
same nominal projection) (see Grimshaw & Mester, 1988; Yo-
kota, 1999, 2005 for further discussion of the syntactic process
applicable to similar constructions). Assuming this kind of
displacement (or argument transfer) in Japanese, the FNQs in
4a) and 4c) are considered arguments of the verb, taking the
host noun as its own argument, which are not typically taken as
adverbial, but as adnominal (i.e., quantification is calculated
within the nominal domain). It follows that structural represen-
tations in (4a-c) indicate that we are not talking about the same
structure any more. The distinction of FNQ structures is sup-
ported by prosodic data rather than what is visible in the written
Note again that the structures of 4b) and 4c) are very similar.
A plausible assumption is that without further clues in the con-
text from intonation, the FNQ is likely to be associated with an
unmarked interpretation (i.e., VP-related FNQs), which is counted
as genuinely quantificational6. In contrast, in NP-related FNQs,
this marked position for the FNQ induces a special interpretive
effect, that is comparable to, a sort of “referential” reading. I
will still call an NP-related FNQ one of the quantifying expres-
sions, though the FNQ parallels an anaphoric pronoun on the
grounds that its meaning can be analyzed in terms of quantifi-
cation (see Peters and Westerståhl 2006 for an extensive dis-
cussion on this matter)7.
Semantically speaking, as Yoshimoto et al. (2006) discuss,
the FNQ is provided an entire piece of information (e.g., fo-
cus/non-focus) as an independent NP, and this may stand in an
anaphoric relation to its host (Yoshimoto et al., 2006: p. 110).
In particular, the NP-related FNQ appears to have an “echoic”
flavour. NP-related FNQs are ambiguous between referential
interpretations and existential ones (see Yokota, 2009, 2010 for
a detailed discussion). If this line of analysis is correct, NP-
related FNQs can be accounted for in terms of an extension of
the treatment of definite descriptions (see Yokota, 2009)8.
For the sake of semantic completeness, let us consider possi-
ble lexical representations, as exemplified in (5a-f), in which I
will employ a (silent) existential quantifier, mapped onto syn-
tactic structures represented in (4a-c) above.
5) Semantic representations of 2):
[NP Gakusei ga] (//) go-nin tsukue o mochiage-ta. (= 2))
student NOM five-CL desk ACC lift-Past
i) “Five (of the) students lifted a desk (individually).”
ii) “Five students lifted a desk (together).”
a) e([X: *student’(X)
*Ag(e)=X)) (p, +d)
b) e ([X: *student’(X)
*Ag(e)=(X))) (p, d)
c) e ([X: *student’(X)])(*lift.a.desk’(e)
|X|=5)) (+p, +d)
d) e ([X: *student’(X)](*lift.a.desk’(e)
|X|=5)) (+p, d)
e) e ([X: *Ag(e)=X
|X|=5 *lift.a.desk’(e)]
(*Ag(e)=student’(X)) (p, +d)
f) e ([X: *Ag(e)=(X)
|X|=5 *lift.a.desk’(e)]
(Ag*(e)=student’(X)) (p, d)
Following Link and Landman (1989, 2000), I assume that
non-distributive readings are made possible by the group op-
erator “”. In 5), it applies first in the restriction clause, and
enters into the nuclear scope (see Landman, 1989, 2000; Naka-
nishi, 2004, 2007; Tancredi, 2005 for related discussion). Dis-
tributive construal obtains directly entering an individual sum
into the pluralized domain in the nuclear scope. The distinction
between partitivity and non-partitivity is reflected in the restric-
tion (i.e., nominal) contents in (5c, d) the information conveyed
by the FNQ is not specified there, resulting in a partitive read-
Assuming that the term lift.a.desk’ takes both an individual
atom and group atom, at least six possible interpretations for
the FNQ construction are constructed, as listed in 5); [+part,
+dist] is from 5c), [+part, dist] from 5d), [part, +dist] from
5a) and 5e), and [part, dist] from 5b) and 5f). 5a) and 5b),
and 5e) and 5f) (with subject-focused readings) are constructed
as NP-related FNQs, while 5c) and 5d) as VP-related FNQs.
When the host NP denotes a type, the type is unspecified with
respect to quantity, and partitive readings do not arise from 5b).
This follows from the basic assumption that topical material
cannot be interpreted in the nuclear scope of a quantifier (see,
e.g., Cresti, 1995; Van Valin, 2005), which is accounted for by
With the architecture in place as in (5a-f), the role of dis-
course-pragmatics (including intonation) is utilized to select
among several readings generated by the grammar. The dis-
tributive reading of the FNQ, regarded as default in previous
studies, hosted by the subject NP would simply follow from the
information structure of the sentence in the kinds of discourse
contents that the speakers could imagine for it, rather than sorts
of particular lexical semantics. In light of the discussion thus
far, a preferred FNQ reading is selected (in accordance with the
6This point is further confirmed by sets of intonational data in Section 4.
7Note that this view does not mean that such an FNQ cannot be analysed
differently. For instance, in terms of referentiality, the speaker may intend
the FNQ to refer to the (subject) host noun when such an interpretation is
available (and preferred) in the utterance.
8In the unmarked case an FNQ sentence yields an existential reading, while
in the other case it is considered definite, yielding a partitive/non-
reading. The parallelism between NP-related FNQs and definite descriptions
may also be worthy of consideration, but I have to leave it for future re-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 89
information-structure) from a set of available readings that are
captured by the semantic representations, as exemplified in
(5a-f), which are accordingly calculated based on the corre-
sponding syntactic structures provided in (4a-c).
Prosodic Considerations
We have observed two types of FNQ sentences, which gives
support to the assumption that an FNQ sentence does not nec-
essarily require a distributive reading (contrary to Gunji & Ha-
sida, 1998; Nakanishi, 2004, 2007, 2008; Kobuchi, 2003, 2007,
among others): FNQ sentences in a discourse context that clash
with a distributive reading as in 2) above. This indicates that
there are cases where the FNQ is clearly not part of the predi-
cate but rather combines syntactically with the host noun. This
section argues that the two types of FNQ sentences can be de-
fined in terms of prosody. It seems that the degree of accept-
ability judgment of non-distributive interpretations of FNQ
sentences vary slightly among speakers, presumably because
the reading is (a little) more marked in that it requires much
more contextual framing to be felicitous.
However, as implied above, there is indeed a natural reading
of non-distributive FNQs in examples like 6) (the acceptability
judgment is Nakanishi’s, based on her assumption that the dis-
tributive reading is not available in FNQ sentences). Despite
contextual needs for non-distributive readings, only a distribu-
tive reading can be assigned to the sentence where the FNQ is
located within VP, resulting in unacceptability.
6) *Kodomo ga kinoo san-nin sono inu o
children NOM yesterday three-CL that dog ACC
“Three children killed the dog.”
(Nakanishi, 2007, 2008)
Miyagawa and Arikawa (2007) point out that the acceptabil-
ity judgment of sentence 6) may greatly improve, if a pause is
put immediately after the FNQ. The acceptability of the sen-
tence clearly demonstrates that the source of the ill-formedness
is not purely the syntactic and semantic issue. Their account is
adequate, though it contains no explicit mention of discourse-
pragmatics or intonational features.
In the present prosodic-based account, taking into considera-
tion that the sentence processing of FNQ sentences is largely
affected by contextual factors, the acceptability of 6) with an
adequate intonation can be translated to that one strategy to
avoid infelicitous FNQ readings is try forming a single intona-
tional domain of the FNQ and its associate NP (for instance,
shaded as in Kodomo ga kinoo san-nin) as a prosodic phrase
having optionally a pause or other lexical items as long as the
FNQ will not exhibit a “sharp F0-rise” (but show a “down-
step”), resulting in a contextually appropriate interpretation9.
Due to this lowering of the phrase, a non-distributive reading
obtains in 6) when the denotation of the predicate is considered
a singleton, as in the predicate “kill somebody”. Sentence 6)
thus asserts that the quantity of children, taken as something
like a single mass entity, which can be measured out as san-nin
“three-Cl”. This interpretation is plausible indeed if we take
into account the Japanese noun denotation consists of both
“atoms” and “sums” under Link’s (1983) theory of plurality
(see also Landman, 2000 for relevant discussion).
I will turn to the consideration of what prosodic structures
can distinguish between distributive and non-distributive FNQ
readings. By way of illustrating a sensitivity of prosodic phrase
to information structure, let us now consider a set of discourse
settings involving a VP-related FNQ in 7a) and an NP-related
FNQ in 7b), both reflecting possible information structures10.
The pitch tracks, as shown in Figures 1 and 2 below, are based
on tokens produced by a male Tokyo-Japanese speaker in his
late thirties who is a researcher in natural language processing
at a communication technology company. Every pitch-track
diagram presented in Figures 1 and 2 was picked from three to
four similar diagrams of the recordings. In the recording, the
speaker was presented with the accompanying context, such as
(7a, b) and asked to read (aloud or silently) the context sen-
tences. After reading each context sentence and understanding
it, the speaker produced each target sentence for the recording.
In order to minimize my own biases, I have also conducted
some informal comprehension tests, presenting the recordings
to over ten native speakers of Japanese, including university
academic staff and undergraduate students.
Figure 1.
Pitch contour of the target sentence in 7a). Pitch reset is observed
on the FNQ roku-nin “six-Cl”.
9Downstep (or F0-compression) is the process by which pitch range is re-
duced after some phonological trigger. The phenomenon occurs in many
dialects of Japanese, including Tokyo Japanese, where the trigger is the HL
lexical accent (see Kubozono, 1993; Ishihara, 2011 for more details).
10Although there may be other phrasing patterns reflecting possible focus
structure, I will not deal with all of them for reasons of simplicity.
Figure 2.
Pitch contours of target sentences in 7b). On both (a) and (b), the F0
peak on the subject NP is raised, and the post-focal material (i.e., roku-
nin) is compressed (i.e., downstepped).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
To facilitate explication, the interpretations in 7a) and 7b)
adopt Steedman’s (2000) informational dichotomy using theme/
rheme sentence-structure assignment, accommodating a possi-
ble distribution of focus (marked by pitch accent or boundary)
and background (unmarked by pitch accent or boundary) com-
ponents along with possible prosodic events (e.g., downstep as
shown in Figures 2(a) and (b), and pitch reset as in Figure 1).
The question sentences in 7) are generally assumed to unambi-
guously specify the information structure and the placement of
prosodic prominence pertaining to the FNQ sentence (see Sel-
kirk, 1996; Kahnemuyipour, 2009 for relevant discussions). It
should be noted that the contextual question sentences were
given in English because it is reported that listeners” judgments
are influenced by the degree of F0 height of the question word
itself, i.e., the focused wh-word (see Maekawa, 1991 for discus-
sion of this matter).
7) (Single prosodic units are indicated by shade. “!” and “
indicate a pitch reset and downstep, respectively. Each [’] in the
sentences marks the place for the HL fall of a pitch accent.)
a) Q: I heard that some men who happened to be there got
involved in terrorism. But how many people got involved in
A: Soko-ni iawáseta otokó ga //
men who happened to be there NOM
[Theme Focus ]
!rokú-nin téro ni makikomáreta.
six-CL in te rrorism got inv olved
pitch reset
[Rheme Focus ...]
“Six (of the) men who happened to be there got involved in
Sentence 7a) presupposes the existence of only one terrorism
(or more than one terrorism), one for each man, which does not
matter in the present discussion. More importantly, an FNQ
sentence can be assigned either distributive or non-distributive.
The pitch-tracking in Figures 1 and 2 illustrates that a promi-
nent accent induces downstep and suppresses the lexical accent
of the predicate that immediately follows it. It is noteworthy
that in the answer sentence 7b), the subject NP is focused and
the FNQ roku-nin “six-Cl” denotes maximality. As indicated on
both contours in Figure 2, the FNQ is phrased prosodically
with the preceding host noun rather than with the VP, though
the sentence can be ambiguous with respect to information
structure: that is, the FNQ roku-nin are grouped either a rheme-
background or a theme-focus, which certainly affects the into-
national tune, as can be seen in Figures 2(a) and (b).
b) Q: I heard that six people got involved in terrorism. But
who was it that got involved in it?
A: Soko-ni iawáseta otokó ga (//)
men who happened to be there NOM (//)
[Rheme Focus]
rokú-nin téro ni makikomáreta.
six-CL in terrorism got involved
i) [Rheme Background] [Theme Focus ...] or
ii) [Theme Focus …]
“Six men who happened to be there got involved in terror-
As already discussed earlier, the target sentence in 7b) quan-
tifies over individuals, which is perfectly well-formed despite
the presence of a pause (see Figure 2(a)). When it comes to
FNQs that quantify over individuals, it is not clear how well the
previous studies apply to them, assuming the subject-oriented
FNQ must form a constituent with the VP. It cannot be claimed
that such quantification obligatorily arises with all FNQs, be-
cause this would falsely predict that sentences like Gakusei ga,
gojuu-nin atsumatta “Fifty students gathered” are just as ill-
formed as sentences like #Otoko ga, san-nin Taknaka o kor-
oshita “Three men killed Tanaka” (Kobuchi, 2007: p. 110). It is
worth mentioning here that the data also shows that the as-
sumption by Takami (1998) that in the FNQ construction the
host NP must be topic in the sentence is not correct. Note par-
ticularly that a pause intervenes between the FNQ and its host
NP in 7b ii), where a new independent pitch range has not been
chosen at the intermediate phrase boundary before the FNQ;
hence the two items are phrased together, consisting of a single
intonational domain.
To account for the distinctive pitch patterns as displayed in
Figures 1 and 2, I assume two levels of prosodic phrasing:
Accentual Phrase (AccP) and Intermediate Phrase (IntP). To
recapitulate, as observed in (8a-c) there are (at least) three dis-
tinct prosodic patterns with FNQs regarding narrow focus
readings (8a-c).
8) a) [IntP [AccP otoko ga roku-nin]] =
NP-related FNQ (e.g., 7) b.i))
b) [Int P [AccP otoko ga] [AccP roku-nin]] =
NP-related FNQ (e.g., 7) b.ii))
c) [IntP [AccP otoko ga]] [IntP [AccP roku-nin]] =
VP-related FNQ (e.g., 7) a))
The current view is compatible with the assumption that
Japanese FNQs function either as NP-related in (8a, b), or as
VP-related as in 8c). In regard to NP-related FNQs, the (partial)
utterance in 8a) does not necessarily include a pause, so there is
no separate boundary tone, whereas the one in 8b) does. The
point to observe is that the partition of the sentence in 8) into
the verb phrase and a non-standard (but interpreted) constituent,
[Subject NP, FNQ], corresponding to the string otoko ga roku-
nin “six men”, makes this prosody-based view structurally and
semantically suited to the demands of intonational phrasing
observed in FNQ constructions. It is highly likely that speakers
might group the prosodic words for the NP-related FNQ in each
utterance into two accentual phrases, as in shown in 8b), which,
in turn, were grouped together to form a single IntP for the
utterance as a whole, as in 8a). In contrast, for the utterance
involving VP-related FNQs, the tone structure looks like 8c).
The accentual phrase (AccP) consists of one or more word.
An intermediate phrase (IntP) is a phonological unit that con-
sists of one or more AccP. Tonally, it is the domain within
which pitch range is specified and downstep takes place; it is
also characterized by an optional phrase-final tonal movement
(IntP-boundary tone) (see Pierrehumbert & Beckman, 1988 for
details). I suggest treating the boundary tones of 7b) (see Fig-
ures 2(a) and (b)) as an AccP-boundary tone (rather than IP-
boundary tone as in 7a)), as it does not seem to be generally
followed by pitch-resetting or a (long) pause (see Venditti et al.,
2008 for details). Given this prosody, 7b) can be analyzed ei-
ther as a single AccP formed by the host NP and the FNQ
(Figure 2(a)) or separate APs by the host NP and the FNQ
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 91
(Figure 2(b)). Hence, this example can be analyzed as a “con-
tinuation-fall” contour, presumably reflecting the speaker’s in-
tentions with regard to the theme-rheme articulation of his/her
utterance (Ladd, 1996). Importantly, Figure 2(b) shows that the
syntax does not determine the intonational contour unambigu-
ously. The pause observed in the Figure 2(b) is presumably
treated as an AccP-boundary tone rather than IntP-boundary
tone, as it does not seem to be generally followed by pitch-
resetting or a (long) pause (Oshima, 2007; Venditti et al., 2008).
In this connection, the difference in phrasing seems insensitive
to the edges of major syntactic phrases, but rather to a level
difference (e.g., a high level of the prosodic hierarchy), as can
be seen in 8) of whether or not the FNQ belongs to the same
prosodic unit as the subject NP it is modifying. We can main-
tain that FNQ placement and interpretation is affected by pros-
ody (e.g., Selkirk, 1995), and the types of prosodic boundary
vary in reference to prosodic phrasing (e.g., AccP-boundary or
To recapitulate, the contours observed in Figures 1 and 2
should be explained if we assume that if accentual phrasing in
Japanese tends to reflect both the discourse context and the
syntactic structure of an utterance. This account is consistent
with the standard assumption that the focal prominence typi-
cally introduces an IntP break before the focused element (Pi-
errehumbert & Beckman, 1986; Nagahara, 1994, among others),
the speaker can induce the percept of focal prominence even
with a (fairly small) reset at the beginning of the focused ele-
ment as in 7a), and the sequence the host NP and the FNQ can
be marked as a syntactically conjoined sequence by the intona-
tion pattern, as shown in the downsloping pattern in the figures
of 7b). Examples such as 7a) and 7b ii) exemplifies a way in
which the prosodic parse may be ambiguous; the segmental
cues and intonation pattern inform the listener that these forms
are very closely conjoined syntactically, but the IP-boundary in
7a) indicates that the two elements of the constituent are inde-
pendent, so that the second or the first of them can be marked
separately as a focus constituent.
The descriptive generalization that follows is that NP-related
FNQs can only get a contextually appropriate interpretation if
they can have the F0 peak on the FNQ lowered (or compressed).
Thus, in actual speech, information structure is reflected in
changes in pitch register scaling (e.g., downstep or pitch reset)
of prosodic domains (see Féry & Ishihara, 2009 for an exten-
sive discussion). Crucially, this is different from the claim that
the presence of a prosodic boundary affects the semantic inter-
pretation: It is true that the different interpretations are often
explained by ascribing to the insertion of a prosodic boundary
(see Pierrehumbert & Beckman, 1988; Kubozono, 1993, and
references therein). However, it is not sufficient, as Figure 2(b)
(in which a pause is inserted between the subject and FNQ)
exhibits a distinctive prosodic event involved in the construc-
tion: an initial F0 compression after the prosodic boundary.
The point of the discussion so far is that the partition of the
sentence in Figure 2(b) into the verb phrase and a seemingly
non-canonical (but fully interpreted) constituent; [Subject NP,
FNQ] corresponding to the string otoko ga roku-nin “men six-
Cl” makes this theory structurally and semantically suited to the
demand of intonational phrasing. Taking into account that in-
tonation helps to determine which of the multiple possible
phrasing permitted by syntax of Japanese is intended, and that
the interpretations of the constituents that arise from these
phrasing patterns are closely related to the distinction between
focus and non-focus. Any syntactic theory capturing FNQ con-
strual should be more sensitive to the presence of intonational
boundaries in actual speech (i.e., whether or not they coincide
with syntactic boundaries when intonation boundaries are pre-
sent), making it possible to describe two types of FNQs; NP-
related as in 7b) and as VP-related as in 7a).
I finish the discussion in this paper by summarizing the main
points. First, I have shown that the difference in intonational
phrasing crucially lies in the information structure. I have em-
phasized that in light of information structure, focus emerges as
part of the interpretation of Japanese FNQs. Second, it has been
demonstrated that in terms of the information-based prosody,
local NP-related FNQs 4a) and non-local NP-related ones 4c)
can be substantially identical if an FNQ consists of a single
intonational phrase (or prosodic constituent) with the host NP,
despite the difference in the surface structure (or syntactic con-
stituent). This hypothesis has been ascertained by empirical
evidence in 7a) and 7b). Although the exact implementation
remains to be worked out, there is a correlation between pro-
sodic phrasing and interpretation such that each phonetic reali-
zation (e.g., distinctive pitch patterns) as a consequence of in-
formation partitioning which serves to determine the preferred
FNQ interpretation in a given discourse. This line of analysis is
consistent with the assumption that surface structure with into-
nation is the one that can be directly interpreted in terms of
semantics and pragmatics (e.g., information-structure). I hope
this paper suggests a fruitful direction for future studies on
FNQ constructions in Japanese.
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