Higher order unification and the interpretation of focus

Linguistics and Philosophy 20 (1):73-115 (1997)
Higher order unification is a way of combining information (or equivalently, solving equations) expressed as terms of a typed higher order logic. A suitably restricted form of the notion has been used as a simple and perspicuous basis for the resolution of the meaning of elliptical expressions and for the interpretation of some non-compositional types of comparative construction also involving ellipsis. This paper explores another area of application for this concept in the interpretation of sentences containing intonationally marked focus, or various semantic constructs which are sensitive to focus.Similarities and differences between this approach, and theories using alternative semantics, structured meanings, or flexible categorial grammars, are described. The paper argues that the higher order unification approach offers descriptive advantages over these alternatives, as well as the practical advantage of being capable of fairly direct computational implementation.
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