A variably exhaustive and scalar focus particle and pragmatic focus concord in Burmese

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Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine
Keely New


The Burmese particle hmá expresses cleft-like exhaustivity in some contexts but a scalar, even-like meaning in other contexts. We propose that hmá is uniformly a not-at-issue scalar exhaustive, with semantics similar to that proposed for English it-clefts in Velleman, Beaver, Destruel, Bumford, Onea & Coppock 2012. When hmá takes wide scope, it leads to an exhaustive interpretation which is not scale-sensitive. When hmá takes scope under negation, the resulting expression will have a scale-sensitive felicity condition due to a Non-Vacuity constraint. We show that hma makes reference to alternatives ordered by likelihood, but cannot use other contextual orderings such as rank-orders.We also analyze the sentence-final mood marker ta/da, which frequently but not always appears in scalar hmá utterances, in a manner similar to focus concord effects in other languages. We propose that ta/da is a marker of propositional clefts and argue that the semantics of hmá and the pragmatic requirements of propositional clefts together derive this apparent focus concord effect, as well as its exceptions.

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Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, National University of Singapore

Department of English Language & Literature, Assistant Professor

Keely New, National University of Singapore

Department of English Language & Literature, Research Assistant