Stressful plans to leave

There is a difference in stress between (1) and (2), which use ALL CAPITALS to identify where the stress falls.

(1) John has PLANS to leave.

(2) John has plans to LEAVE.

Edward Gussmann discussed these examples briefly in the Journal of Linguistics (Volume 24, Issue 1, 1988) in his review of The theory of Lexical Phonology (K. P. Mohanan, 1986).

Gussmann reports that Mohanan repeats old claims that this difference arises because leave is:

  • transitive in (1), with plans as its direct object; but
  • intransitive in (2) leave.

Gussmann rejects the idea that syntax determines prosody so directly. He shows that it is easy to reverse the position of stress in the sentences by putting them in suitable contexts, without changing their syntax, as in (3) and (4).

(3) John only has PLANS to leave, he is not leaving yet.

(4) John has plans to LEAVE not to let.

In (3), plans is stressed, even though leave is intransitive. But in (4), leave is stressed, even though leave is transitive, with plans as its direct object.

Gussmann concludes that the information focus is what is stressed. Syntax is of only secondary importance.

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