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What is prominence in language?

Prominence is a key notion in our understanding of language as a flexible system. It plays a major role in building linguistic structures and in organizing the communicated information into coherent and continually updated discourse representations. The CRC researchers have formulated the following three criteria to characterize potentially prominence-related phenomena.

  • Prominence criterion 1: Prominence is a relational property that singles out one element from a set of elements of equal type and structure
  • Prominence criterion 2: Prominent elements are structural attractors, i.e. they serve as anchors for the larger structures they are constituents of, and they may license more operations than their competitors
  • Prominence criterion 3: Prominence status shifts in time (as discourse unfolds)

When conceived of in this way, the notion of prominence is applicable across multiple subdisciplines of linguistics – typology, phonology and phonetics, morphosyntax, semantics, discourse pragmatics, psycho- and neurolinguistics – and consequently calls for a broad approach, in terms of methodologies and in terms of the object of investigation (diverse languages, group- and individual-specific traits).

In addition to significantly improving our understanding of how language works, we also expect our investigations to make a substantial contribution to the study of the interface between language and other aspects of the human cognitive system.


The three research areas in the CRC 1252

We investigate how prominence structures language with respect to prosody (Area A), morphosyntax and semantics (Area B) as well as text and discourse structure (Area C).