Context

The last item under this umbrella heading of old information refers to context. The idea is that a word doesn’t need to have already been uttered to be considered old information and consequently deaccented. It is enough if it is recoverable from context.

Let’s see a good example taken from the film Hanna and her Sisters.

 

(24)

-Where are you headed?

-Oh, I was just going to my AA meeting[1].

-Oh, my God! Why do you still go to those? You never touch alcohol.

(Michael Caine; London, UK / Barbara Hershey; Hollywood, California, US. Hanna and her Sisters).

In his second intervention, Michael Caine leaves the last lexical word, alcohol, out of focus and puts the accent on the preceding verb, touch. But the fact is that neither the word alcohol nor any kind of synonym or superordinate has been uttered so far. The reason for the deaccentuation, then, is that a drinking problem is implicit in someone attending an AA meeting. The notion of alcohol, hence, is inferable from the situation. So here we are dealing with a piece of extra-linguistic information, something that has not been made explicit in discourse and mainly depends on our knowledge of the world. Nevertheless, it is real information as well and must be treated accordingly, that is, through deaccentuation.

Here is, again, another example of deaccentuation of the noun alcohol after the verb touch. It really seems to be a classic.

(25) Well, take some sherry (..). My husband and I never touch alcohol (Valerie Hobson; Larne, Northern Ireland, UK. Kind Hearts and Coronets).

 

A similar case of deaccentuation due to context can be observed in another scene from Frasier.

(26)

-Frasier: ‘Here, Have a Rainbow’, by Dr. Honey Snow. Daphne, how can you listen to this stuff ? It’s absolute dribble.

-Daphne: Well, for someone who writes dribble, she’s awfully popular.

-Frasier: Oh, really, fancy that. She tells everyone that they’re perfectly wonderful and that nothing wrong is ever their fault. What do you know, they like it.

-Daphne: There’s a lot more to it than that. You should try reading one of her books.

(Kelsey Grammer; Virgin Islands, US / Jane Leaves; Ilford, UK. Frasier, sesion 2. You Scratch my Book)

The noun phrase one of her books is clearly deaccented in Daphne’s last turn, even though the word book has not been mentioned yet. Actually, they’re speaking about listening to something, presumably some kind of corny self-help audio tape. What actress Jane Leeves with her funny put-on Mancunian accent does then is take the notion of book for granted. They’re talking about an author who writes –even if she writes dribble-, so the idea of books is in the air.

 

[1] See also 3.14, open compounds.

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