Gerda Eva Lauerbach
Table of contents

Emphasis, from Greek emphaínein ‘to exhibit, to indicate’, is a complex phenomenon. Historically it has its roots in ancient rhetoric, where it refers to the exceptional force, intensity or otherwise unusual form of expression on the part of speakers or writers which serves to indicate or attract attention to special meaning, importance, or prominence of their words, feelings or actions. The nature of the particular meaning, importance or prominence in any specific instance of use has to be inferred. Emphasis fulfils two main functions. Firstly, to aid recipients in better comprehending utterances and texts. Secondly, to facilitate the audience’s adoption of certain opinions, beliefs and desires. Thus, cognition and affect are involved, and the two main communicative strategies of informing and persuading or influencing (Schirren 1994). Emphasis is also a topic in literary and general stylistics, as well as in linguistic stylistics (Crystal & Davy 1969; Leech & Short 1981; Enkvist 1987; Esser 1993; Selting 1994). It has been studied in Prague School functional linguistics (Mathesius 1964), and in systemic functional linguistics (Halliday 1994). In linguistics emphasis is associated with information structure (Halliday 1994), prosody (Cutler & Ladd 1983; Pierrehumbert & Hirschberg 1990), markedness (Levelt 1991), and salience (Levelt 1991; Giora 2002) – topics that are dealt with in other entries in this Handbook. Although these aspects have become particularly relevant for cognitive science and automatic speech processing, these fields will not be dealt with here (but cf. Special Issue on Dialogue and prosody of Speech Communication 36, 2002; Hirschberg 2002; Shriberg et al. 1998). Due to its implicit nature, an account of emphasis will also have to refer to models of inference, for instance those formulated by Grice (1975) and Sperber & Wilson (1995).

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