This article1 deals with a well-known but still ill-explained fact about German, namely scope inversion under a particular accent contour, as illustrated with the following examples, where “/” and “\” stand for rising and falling accent: (a) Mindestens ein Stu- dent hat jeden Roman gelesen, lit. ‘at least one student has every novel read’, with the reading “For at least one student x: x read every book”, and (b) Mindestens /EIN Student hat \JEDen Roman gelesen, with the additional reading “For every novel y: at least one student read y”. I will derive the scope inversion in this reading from general principles of scope assignment and focus marking in German. In particular, I will argue that focus is assigned to constituents that precede the verbal predicate, which leads to syntactic configurations that in turn result in ambiguous interpretations. This explanation must be couched in a framework of derivational economy that favors shorter derivations. It is argued that the relevant comparison class is defined with respect to phonological form, not, as has been suggested for English, with respect t o identity of semantic interpretation, and that this may be a general property of “free” word order languages.
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