A linguistic device which a speaker uses to mark some part of the message as being particularly newsworthy. Focus devices include:

  • syntactic reorganisation, such as clefting. English example: It was Sid who said that.
  • the use of of focus particles. Example from American English: It is too an elephant.
  • intonational accent placement. English example: I didn’t WANT to get up.

Languages differ in the frequency of use of these various strategies.

Broad focus is used when the speaker wishes the whole of an utterance to be thought of as new information. In most accents of English this means that the intonational nucleus falls on the stressed syllable of the last content word of the intonational phrase. For example: He was a professor of Greek HIStory. This would be an appropriate response to a question like: Who was Samuel Bloggs?, which introduces no information about the subject concerned.

Narrow focus draws the attention of the hearer to one particular constituent, usually because the rest of the message contains information which is regarded as “old” or at least inferrable from the context. For example, the comment: Samuel Bloggs was a history professor might well elicit the response: Yes, he was a professor of GREEK history.