Are focus and givenness prosodically marked in Kinyarwanda and Rwandan English?

Fatima Hamlaoui, Kriszta Szendrői, Jonas Engelmann


In this paper, we are interested in whether systematic variations in pitch, intensity and duration can be observed as a function of the focused or discourse-given status of a constituent in Kinyarwanda (Bantu JD61), and a relatively recent variety of “New English” in contact with this Bantu language. Kinyarwanda is a tone language, in which the information-structural notion of focus has been reported to be expressed through changes in word order, with focus appearing clause-finally (Kimyeni 1988, Ndayiragije 1999, Ngoboka 2016). In contrast, Standard English is well-known for the prosodic boost associated with narrowly focused words and the prosodic reduction of post-focal items. Cross-linguistically, the prosodic expression of focus and givenness is progressively becoming considered a marked feature. Zerbian (2015) predicts that it should not be found in a second language (L2), or a contact variety, if it is not already present in the first language of a speaker or a group of speakers. Our study finds no evidence that information focus, exhaustive focus or givenness systematically affect the prosody of Kinyarwanda. We also find no systematic effect of information structure in the variety of English spoken by our Rwandan participants, confirming that this is probably an area of English that is difficult to acquire.

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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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