Variable prosodic realization of verb focus in Urdu

Author(s): Farhat Jabeen, Tina Bögel and Miriam Butt


Urdu/Hindi has SOV default word order and an immediately preverbal default focus position. We were interested in the interplay between syntax and prosody with respect to verb focus in declaratives. We tested SOV vs. SVO orders in contexts of broad vs. contrastive focus. In order to force the verb to be focused, we created situations of contrastive verb focus and conducted a production experiment. Our results show that the prosodic realization of verb focus is variable. The general pitch contour on prosodic phrases seems to be L*+H. Verb focus in SVO contexts is realized via a higher pitch span, which is consonant with existing literature. In contrastive SOV contexts, however, the clause ends with L% as opposed to non-contrastive SOV, which features H%. Prosodic realization of verb focus in Urdu is thus variable according to context. We conclude that the L% in SOV is used to signal verb focus because it indicates a marked prosodic structure in contrast to the H% found otherwise on declaratives. Simply increasing the pitch span of the L*+H contour would not serve to provide a clear prosodic distinction. In conclusion, the prosodic realization of focus in Urdu is variable across different syntactic structures.