Friday, July 13, 2012


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Every sentence contains a message called ‘unit of information’, which is what the producer endeavours to make readily assimilated and processed by the receiver. This unit consists of two sections. Given information (optional) and New information (obligatory). Information Focus (henceforth IF) represents the climax of the New (Halliday), 185b10). It is a functional, pragmatic status, which a concept may lose or acquire as discourse proceeds (Chase, 1741). Moreover, IF is the core or centre of the receiver’s communicative interest (Crystal, 1851). IF is important for the use of language in communication since it determines the ‘appropriateness’ of a sentence to a particular context (Sgall, 187a18). IF is responsible for discourse cohesion as well as its structure in terms of Given-New information.

Accordingly, an accurate recognition of the focal element and its domain would necessarily indicate a complete understanding of the message content. Firbas (1777) asserts that ‘it is an illumination and valuable experience for a student if he is obliged to decide which words are important and deserving of emphasis (IF), if he has to decide what the sentence and the whole message means; what the point of it all is”. In other words, the appropriate placement of IF reflects one’s comprehension of the sentence as a whole.

The primary means for the realization of IF is phonological prominence, namely sentence accent. Gutler (1848) states that

When sentence is produced the speaker assigns accent to what he considers to be the more or less important parts of what he is saying. A listener hearing a sentence finds it important to identify the location of accent and uses all available cues to assists him in his search and the reason why accent is so keenly sought appears to be precisely because it expresses focus-thus the perception of accent is as intimately connected with information structure of the sentence as is accent production.

In ordinary (informationally ) neutral sentences, IF is not overtly marked; the accent falls on the last syllable causing an indeterminacy in the information structure. Despite all the available cues in both aural and written media, the receiver’s attempt to recognize IF and consequently comprehending the message is not always successful. Failure to recognize IF leads to misunderstanding the message and by extension results in a cut of communication “specially by foreign learners” (Chafe, 1761).

Consequently, every language has developed typographically distinct focusing devices or, to use Foley and Valin’s (1858) terms ‘ information packaging devices’. The IF signaled by them is variously called contrastive, marked or emphatic. The major realization of contrastive IF is phonological as well, namely contrastive accent (henceforth, CA). It is a flexible focusing device that can demark any sentential element as IF, be it a content word or a function word, a whole word or part of a word. The scope of contrastive IF is coextensive with the element bearing contrastive accent, hence allowing no possibility for indeterminancy. CA has also freedom of position, be it initial, medial or final. It can moreover distort the stress pattern of lexical stress and compounds, e.g.


i. // I saw Jack in the park yesterday // (it was me and no one else

who did the seeing .

ii // I SAW Jack in the park yesterday // (not talked to him).

iii // I saw JACK in the park yesterday // (not Tim).

iv. // I saw Jack IN the park yesterday // (not anywhere else).

v. // I saw Jack in the park YESTERDAY //(not today).

Despite the fact that sentences (ii-v) express the same proposition and semantic roles, each conveys a different information structure according to the element bearing IF.

The other focusing devices are syntactic which compromise manipulating sentential elements to achieve different kinds of prominence. According to Quirk, et. al., (18588), these devices involve making variations in grammatical structure based on the producer’s need to adapt his message to the receiver’s requirements as an interpreter. Such variations include the suppression of informationally predictable elements and highlighting informationally prominent ones. The syntactic focusing devices include cleft-constructions (henceforth, cleaving), topicalization, extrapositioning, focusing adjuncts, passivization, dative movement, ellipsis and substitution (cf. EK and Roberts, 184406-6, and Quirk. et. al., ibid177-417). Nevertheless, there has been no agreement on the focusing effect of all of these devices in comparison to CA. The only syntactic device that creates an equivalent effect is cleaving. Consequently, EK and Roberts (ibid416) state that these two devices (i.e., CA and cleaving) make the most unmistakable marking of the focal element.

Cleaving is of two types cleft sentence proper (or it-cleft) and pseudo-cleft. They display a distinctive mapping of informational functions by dividing the material of a simple non-cleft sentence into two sections; one of them takes IF position whereas the other is specified as Given and is introduced by a relative marker (Colins, 148). These constructions have a similar flexibility to CA in highlighting different parts of speech. Thus from the following non-cleft sentence in (1), a number of clefts and pseudo-clefts can be derived


i. An earthquake shook the house last night.

ii. It was an earthquake that shook the house last night.

iii. What shook the house last night was an earthquake.

iv. It was the house that the earthquake shook last night.

v. What the earthquake shook last night was the house.

vi. It was last night that an earthquake shook the house.

vii. What the earthquake did was (to) shake the house.

Sentences (ii, iv, and vi) are clefts proper specifying as IF the subject, object and time adverbial respectively, whereas sentences (iii, v, and vii) are pseudo-clefts specifying the subject, object and complement respectively as IF.

Generally, the effect of CA as a focusing device is stronger in the aural medium. Cleaving, however, are supposed to have parallel effect in the written medium (Quirk and Greenbaum, 17415, and ek and Roberts, 184416).

Consequently and due to the importance of IF recognition in comprehension and effective communication, Omani undergraduate EFL learners are tested to see how far they could recognize the focal element marked with CA and Cleaving . in other words, this study aims at

1. comparing Omani EFL college � students’ recognition of IF when marked with CA and with Cleaving;

. identifying if there is any significant difference in their recognition due to the type of medium used; spoken vs. written;

. determining whether the two types of cleaving, namely Cleft-proper and Pseudo-cleft (and their sub-types), are equally effective focusing devices or not; and at

4. ensuring if the size, position and of the focal element and its form-class (content vs. function word) influence those students’ recognition of IF.

Specifically, it is hypothesized that

1. Omani undergraduate EFL learners’ recognition of IF is better when marked with CA than with cleaving.

. There is no significant difference in students’ recognition of IF.

a. In aural and written media;

b. In cleft �proper and pseudo �cleft; and

c. Due to the size, position, number and form �class of the focal elements.


.1 Population and Sample

The population of this study is fourth � year Omani undergraduate EFL learners, who are supposed to have mastered all language skills and possess full competence in phonology, including stress patterns and intonation, and should have studied cleaving directly or indirectly. AN EFL graduate should comprehend with equal ease written and aural messages; since Focus is an prominent part of any message, its (in)correct recognition will give clear indication of students’ comprehension and consequently the teaching efficiency of their departments. The test sample includes (148) students (0) of them for the pilot test and (118) for the main test.

. The Tests

..1. Validity

To achieve the purposes of this study, two achievement tests, aural and written, are conducted; achievement tests are “ based on what the student is presumed to have learnt �not necessarily on what he has actually learnt nor on what has actually been taught” (Heaton, 17516).

The two-test items fall into three categories representing the focusing devices adopted here, namely, CA (0 items), cleft-proper (16 items) and pseudo-cleft (0 items), which cover all relevant aspects, and thus establishes Content Validity. Test items are framed in the form of mini-dialogues (question-answer sequences or statement and comment pairs), to provide a suitable context for each item; it is the context that specifies which element bears Focus.

The test items of the aural task were recorded TWICE with the voice of Mrs. Dorothy Al-Naimi, a British subject and a teacher at Baghdad international School. An interval of ten-seconds is left between every succeeding items; the clearer recording was used in test administration.

The test, aural and written, was submitted to the close examination of a jury of ten experts in linguistics, testing and EFL teaching, who accepted them with minor modifications, to secure Face Validity. On the basis of their opinions, the final version (Appendix 1) of the two tests were made.

... Pllot Study

The two tests were administered to a try-out group of (0) testes; it was found out that

1. The instructions are clear;

. The time required is 50 minutes;

. Both tests are reliable (the reliability coefficient is 0.76 and 0.8 for the aural and written tests respectively;

4. All the items of the aural tests and the majority of the items of the written test (except five items that have been modified and incorporated in the final version) have acceptable discrimination power ranging from 0.75 to 0.875.

5. The test items are found to e of acceptable difficulty level extending from 0.15 to 0.815 and from 0.5 to 0.815 for the aural and written tests respectively.

... Test Scoring

Each item in the two tests has one possible correct answer which is awarded a single mark (1), and a zero (0) if incorrect. The answer-sheets were also prepared to maintain stability and consistency of scoring.

..4. Test Administration

Because of the auditory task involved in the aural test, and to minimize the level of interference caused by extraneous noise on each occasion of administration and ensure reliability and standardization, both tests were administered in a laboratory. Test administration took SIX sessions; in each session, 5 students were tested to enforce complete control, ease of administration and to ensure that all participants can equally hear the recording with clarity.

Students were asked to answer on the test-paper itself; no answer �sheet was required so as to avoid possible errors arising from mental transfer of the answer from the context of the item. The written test was administered first, followed by the aural test.

. Discussion of Results

This section aims to analyse statistically the results of the tests so as to reject or retain the hypotheses and to achieve the test aims made in S 1. The t-test is used to compare between the variables identified in the aims. The variables are specified at Significance Level of 0.05 with a 8 df (Degree of Freedom-N (No. of subjects)-1); the calculated t-values are thus compared to the Tabled Value=. The results are shown in Table 1 below



CA vs. cleaving = == = AuralWrittenGeneral Cleaving CACleaving CACleaving CA

Aural Test vs. written Test Aural Test= Written Test

Cleft Proper vs. Pseudo= == = AuralWrittenGeneral C Proper = PesudoC proper PesudoC proper Pesudo

Basic vs. Revered (Pseudo C) AuralWrittenGeneral Basic = ReversedBasic ReversedBasic Reversed

Content vs. function Words AuralWritten Content function WordsContent function Words

A whole vs. Part of word AuralWritten Whole PartWhole Part

Initial vs. Medial vs. final= = = AuralWrittenGeneral Initial final Medial Initial final MedialInitial final Medial

Word vs. Phrase vs. Clause = = == = = AuralWrittenGeneral Word Phrase ClausePhrase Word ClauseWord Phrase Clause

Single vs. dual vs. Triple= = == = = AuralWrittenGeneral Single & Triple dual Written Single Dual & Triple General single Triple Dual

Table 1 shows that cleaving (not CA) helps students produce correct responses in each of the two tests and also in the test as a whole. This result refutes hypothesis (1), and contradicts the theoretical introspection that phonological prominence is superior to all syntactic types of focus signaling. This may be due to those students’ inefficiency in listening skills or weakness in pronunciation in general. This difference might also be traced to the interference imposed by their mother tongue (i.e., Arabic) which, according to Badee’ (10), exploits syntactic and lexical means for showing ‘emphasis’ (or focus) just as much as English makes use of CA for that purpose; it also corresponds to Ken’aan’s (1) observations and findings that Arabic, and more specifically Baghdad Arabic BA), organizes information structure in a different way Arabic exploits free word order to express different degrees of Communicative Dynamism (CD), whereas English resorts to phonology for this purpose. However, counter to Badee’ (10), Ken’aan (1170) argues that accent shift does not exist in BA, a fact underlying Omani EFL learners’ difficulty in identifying and producing such constructions. This same fact is also underlined in this study. Besides, this conclusion would support Harries (1710), who argues that Arabic does have cleft-constructions, in contrast to such writers as as Badee’ (10), Nimer(10) and Len’aan (1) who all assert that these constructions do not exist in Standard or spoken Arabic.

Also, the results of the two tests show that there is no significant difference in students’ responses due to the effect of the media, be it spoken or written. This supports the general theoretical assumption that, in English, focus is primarily a matter of phonological-debarkation. The privilege provided. by the spoken cues in terms of accent in CA and spoken cleaving shows no superiority over the written media which id deprived of such cues. This might be explained in the light of the equal effects ascribed to phonological and syntactic focusing devices suggested by andrews (17).

Moreover, the statistical results prove that there does exist significance in students’ identification of the focal element signaled by cleft-proper and pseudo-cleft sentences; thus, in the written test and in the rest as a whole, pseudo-clefts prove superior to cleft-proper as focusing device. However, it is found out that there is no significant difference between these two types of cleaving in the aural test. These results correspond in part with Collins’ (111514-5) findings, where he proves on corpus derived data that pseudo-clefts frequency of occurrence in the spoken test exceeds the cleft-proper sentence. Nevertheless, Collins proves that the opposite holds in the written test where cleft-proper frequency tops the pseudo-cleft one; but in our written test, pseudo-cleft is found out to be a mote efficient focusing device than cleft-proper. This is because the pseudo-cleft sentence causes the focal element to be directly recognized since it takes either a final position (basic) or initial one (reversed) , both of these points associate with the two poles of prominence. Cleft-proper, however, gives the focal element an intermediate position between the empty it and copula on the one hand, and the semi-relative clause on the other hand. The reason why the results of the two tests do not correspond to Collins’ findings is that the nature of the written test he analysed differs from the casual mini-dialogues used in this study.

In additon, the results prove that students’ recognition of focus in the reversed pseudo-clefts tops theirs in the basic ones in the written test and in the rest as a whole, and equal them in the aural test. We believe that the reason behind the ‘reversed’ superiority is the special status assigned to initial position in both languages, English and Arabic. In English, the reversed pseudo-cleft leads to a coincidence of the main and focal prominences. But Arabic, according to Badee’ (11) and Ken’aan (1), assigns special status to the initial position as conveying important information. Nevertheless, in the aural test, students’ recognition of IF is not affected by the word order change of Pseudo-cleft. This might be caused by the prosodic cues of sentence accent, which is equally assigned to the focal element whether the Pseudo-cleft is basic or reversed.

Besides, it is proved that students’ recognition of content words, as focal elements, exceeds that of function words, a result contradiction Hawakins’ (184)(observation that when accent is assigned to unpredictable (exceptional) items as function words, the focus is easier to identify. However, the results point to Omani undergraduates’ sensitivity to lexical stress principle, according to which stress is assigned to a particular syllable in content words only, with function words left distressed and reduced in connected speech. Anyway, the results prove their sensitivity to the effect and function of sentence accent in the expression of information.

The results of Table 1 also illustrate that students’ recognition of the focal element as whole word exceeds theirs when it is just a particular syllable in that word. Hence, the recognition of IF which represents the most important piece of information is minimally associated with the word within which the accent is located. The syllable, however, or part of a word does not contain meaning. Nevertheless, students’ failure to recognize the focal element when confined to a particular syllable marks a weakness in their comprehension specially when the phonological means are in question.

Table 1 also shows that the initial position leads to a direct recognition of IF more than other locations, namely, medial and final. However, students’ responses reveal that end position comes next to the initial one in the power of demarcation. This result corresponds with Andrews’ (17) test on English native speakers, who also show greater sensitivity to the initial position; but the responses of Omani undergraduates in this test diverge from those of Andrews regarding the power of the medial and final position. Andrews proves a gradual decrease in the power of signaling focus from left to right, whereas, in this study, the students’ responses in both tests (aural and written) and in the test as a whole prove that end-position comes next to the initial position in power of demarcation; the least support to the theoretical speculation that the end-position is associated with end-focus principle.

Table 1 also shows that students’ recognition is affected by the size of the element. In the aural test and in the test as a whole, their responses show a logical gradual decrease in recognition from the word-phrase-clause. Usually CA is regarded as a more efficient focusing device than other unmarked ones because it narrows the scope of focus to a single word; in other words, the smaller a focal element is, the more directly it is identified. The results do, however, differ slightly in the written test whereby the ‘phrase’ exceeds the ‘word’ and ‘clause’ in being directly identified as focal. The only possible justification for this difference is the lack of phonological cues in the written test.

Table 1 shows that Omani students usually recognize a ‘single’ focused item in a unit of information easily in the written test and in the test as a whole, with the ‘triple’ exceeding the ‘dual’ in the aural test and in the rest as a whole (and not in the written, whereby the hierarchy is single dual & triple).

4. Conclusions

Based on the theoretical and empirical tasks attempted in this work, the following conclusions are drawn

1. Omani EFL students’ recognition of IF is affected by the type of the focusing device used, and position, size and number of the focal element(s) employed, and by its word-class (function or content). The type of media used (aural vs. written) proves to be ineffective.

. The focusing effect of CA on those students does not exceed that of cleft constructions (cleaving), and is not even equal to them. Syntactic constructions prove to be more powerful than prosodic prominence.

4. Within cleaving, it is the pseudo-cleft that is more effective, and by extension takes precedence over CA.

4. Within pseudo-clefts, it is the ‘reversed’ which creates a greater focusing effect than the basic pseudo-cleft.

5. Therefore, the results of the two tests point to Omani EFL learners’ sensitivity to the following general principles; Firstly, the NSR and the EFP which prescribe that IF should be assigned to a lexical item, i.e., a content rather than a function word. Secondly, the sample tested in this study proves that Omani undergraduates are aware of the two peaks of prominence; therefore, locating IF in medial position has elicited confused judgements. Thirdly, they are equally aware of the phonological principle that a particular information unit basically contains a single accent/IF. Finally, they recognize the fact that the scope of IF, particularly CIF, is narrow, not board. Hence, the smaller the focal element is, the more correct responses it creates. Hence, the focal element our students can recognize must not exceed the PHRASE and is not smaller than the domain of a particular WORD. A syllable or part of a word, and the clause, if focalized lead to incorrect judgements.

6. Recommendations

It is recommended that

1. Since the results show a noticeable weakness in the teaching of English pronunciation and other relevant issues, more attention should be given to its inclusion in the prescribed syllabus, concentrating in particular on the functions communicated by sentence accent, pitch contours and intonation patterns.

. Cleft constructions “display a distinctive mapping of logicosemantic, thematic, and informational functions” (Collins, 11481), they should, therefore, be taught with reference to the appropriate context in which the are used, emphasizing their contrastive focusing effect and communicative value.

. Teachers can make use of question/answer technique adopted in the test of this work since they are more effective in illustrating the contrastive effect of focus of CA and cleaving as well. The use of a question enforces and obligatory choice of Focus so that it is directly recognized.





1.a Iran was the home of Sumerians, wasn’t it?

b. No, Iraq was the home of sumerians.

. a. Roger mist be madly in love with Julia to kill he husband.

b. No, it was for money that he killed he husband.

. a. Why did Robinson Cruiso Light a fire.

b. The reason why he lit a fire was that the sailors could see the smoke rising.

1. a I was you with Arthur the other day. I thought you dislike him.

b it is his wife that I don’t like.

. a I don’t know why my love birds are dying? I feed them every day!

b freedom is all they need.

. a Our new professor is a graduate of Oxford.

b No, he’s a graduate of Leeds.

4. a Jack weakness of will annoys me! What about you?

b Well, his limited mindedness is what annoys me.

5. a Mark broke Mrs. Brown’s window with a rock, didn’t he?

b No, the thing he broke the window with was his football.

6. a frank lost his job for breaking one of the Chinese sets, didn’t he?

b No, it was because he drank too much that he lost his job.

7. a Norman called on Jim early yesterday, didn’t he?

b No, Victor called on Jim yesterday.

8. a I’ve heard your son made a quiet party last night?!

b It was a complete mess a that he made, you mean.

. a Was that phone call for Linda?

b No, the call was for me.

10 a The doorman said the deceased checked in the hotel at .00 p.m.

b After midnight was the time when he checked in .

11. a You made some cookies for young Bill, didn’t you?

b Stella bought a cake for Bill.

1. a uncle Philip sent Pat a white dress form Paris, Didn’t he?

b No, it was Nancy that he sent the dress to.

1. a What do you think you’re doing locking young Paul in the cellar?

b All I’m doing is teaching him a lesson.

14. a Bill helped to repair the car, didn’t he?

b No, it was John who helped to repair the car.

15. a Your mother must have told Roger not to come here, hasn’t she?

b I told him not to come.

16. a This street seems dangerous, isn’t it?

b What this place is is a war zone.

17. a some children fear ghosts.

b But, all children fear darkness.

18. a George answered the headmaster’s questions roughly, didn’t he?

b No, the way he replied to the questions was with great courtesy.

1. a Bill lives on the other side of the street, doesn’t he?

b Two blocks away is the place where he lives.

0. a Lilly’s new friend is agreeable, isn’t he?

b I think he is disagreeable.

1 a The koala bears live in south Africa, I suppose?

b No, it is Australia that they live in.

. a did Mr. Jackson say he was going up or down the mountain?

b He said he was going up the mountain.

. a Robert said you are going to Denmark in March, aren’t you?

b No, it is in June that I’m going there.

4. a Ben will wash the dishes today.

b He will break the dishes, you mean.

5. a Why did Duncan look after the children?

b The reason he looked after them was he was the eldest.

6. a Davies says that you haven’t understood a thing of what he said

b But I have understood.

7. a I was told that I could find the theatre down here?

b Well, no it is in the West End that you find the theatres.

8. a The post man left Susan a letter, didn’t he?

b Linda was the one the postman left a letter to.



1. a Alan owns a Tolls Royce, doesn’t he?

b He did own a Tolls Royce, you mean.

. a Why did Linda heave early?

b It is for fear she would meet Paul that she left early.

. a This map is confusing, which way should we go now?

b The way should go is by the mountain road.

1. a Why haven’t you washed your face?

b But I have washed my face.

. a What was the thing the boy scout sat on?

b The thing he sat on was a small rock.

. a Tina’s parents gave her a golden bracelet on her birthday, didn’t they?

b No, it was a golden ring that they gave her.

4. a so, John was painting your living room, wasn’t he?

b I was painting my living room.

5. a Bill shouldn’t have spent all his money on buying presents for Doreen,

should he?

b Well, what he is is a complete fool.

6. a Alice was engaged to John last night. wasn’t she?

b No, Sally was engaged to Tome last night.

7. a Why did you come back so soon?

b The reason we decided to return was my son was ill.

8. a I thought Mr. Robinson offered him the job?

B No, it was Linda he offered the job to.

. a did Bill cook dinner?

B No, John cooked dinner.

10. a I thought his friend, Burt, convinced him to continue his studies, didn’t he?

B No, It was his teacher who did that.

11. a did Mary go to Boston?

B No, Mary went to Harvard.


Andrew, C.M. 17. “An Experimental investigation of Focus”. In G.D. Prideaux (ed.) Experimental Linguistics.

Badee’, M. 10. A Contrastive Study of Emphasis in Standard English and Standard Arabic. Unpublished M.A. Thesis. College of Arts, Baghdad University.

Chafe, W.174.”Language and Consciousness” . Language50.

----------- 176. “Giveness, Contrastiveness, Definiteness, subjects, Topics and point of View. In C.N. LI Subject and Topic New York; Academic Press.

Collins, A. 11.”Pseudocleft and Cleft Constructions A Thematic and informational Interpretation”. Linguistics.

Crystal, D.185. A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. nd ed. Oxford; Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Cutler, A. 184. “Stress & Accent in Language production and Understanding”. In D. Gibbon H. Richter (eds.) Intonation, Accent and Rhythm. Berlin de Gruyter.

Van EK, and Roberts. 184. Students’ Grammar of English. Oxford Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Firbas,J.17. “On the interplay of Prosodic & Non-prosodic Means of Functional Sentence Perspective”. In V. Fried (ed.) The Ptague School of Linguistics and Language Teaching Oxford.

Foley, and Van Valin.185.” Information Packaging in the Clause” In T. Shopen (ed.) Language Typology and Syntactic Description. Vol. 1. Cambridge CUP.

Halliday,M.185.” It’s a Fixed Word Order Language is English”. In ITL Review of Applied Linguistics67-8.

Harries,H. 17”Contrative Emphasis and Cleft Sentences”. Working Papers on Language Universion1.

Hewkins, .184. Introducing Phonology .London Huntchinson.

Heaton,J.B.175.writing English Language Test. London Longman.

Ken’aan, S. 1. A Contrastive Study of Sentence Accent and-Rhythm in Standard

English and Baghdad Arabic. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, College Of Education,Baghdad University.

Nimer,S.10.Some Aspects of Information Structure in EFL Written Discourse.Unpublished M.A. Thesis, College of Education, Baghdad University.

Quirk, R. and s. Greenbaum.17. A Grammar of Contemporary English. London Longman Group Ltd.

----------------, S. Greenbaum, G. Leach, and J. Svartvik. 185. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London Longman.

Sgall, 187. “Prague Functionalism and Topic vs. Focu”. In R. Driven and V. Fried (ed.) Functionalism in Linguistics Amsterdam Benjamins.

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