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Are there instances in which an entire sentence constitutes a focus--new information? Consider the following scenario:

Three people are talking together about a mutual friend who is in the hospital for a hernia operation.

A fourth person enters the room abruptly and interrupts the conversation with any one of the following announcements:

a) "The President has just been shot."
b) "The school has just been quarantined." c) "There's a can of paint leaking all over the kitchen floor."

On one hand, each sentence can be broken into topic & comment. Topics are "The President," "The school" and "A can of paint" respectively.

On the other hand, all of the information is new to the three listeners. None of it pertains to the original topic of discussion.

Is there any sentence in which sentences a) through c) could be called foci from beginning to end because all of the information in them is new?

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    Yes, these are called "thetic" sentences -- there's quite a lot of information-structure literature on them.
    – TKR
    May 18 '15 at 2:05
  • I don't doubt that you're right about the amount of literature on this subject, but I'm having trouble finding relevant articles on the Net. Could you recommend some links or papers on thetic sentences and information structure? May 18 '15 at 6:37
  • I'm on vacation with spotty net access right now, but feeding "thetic/categorial distinction" into Google Scholar should be a good starting place.
    – TKR
    May 19 '15 at 18:52
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Yes and no. Here's an utterance that is all new. But is it a sentence? It all depends on your perspective. I'd argue that as soon as you have a complete clause with an analytically articulated and semantically relevant subject and predicate, you're doing something to mark the topic or focus (theme/rheme). Because you're always doing something to place it into the discourse structure.

The known/new information approach is only an analogy to the whole point of topic/focus. So while thetic sentences like 'My girlfriend left me' may seem like they're providing all new information in the discourse context of 'Why are you crying?', they're already involved in marking the known aspect of 'X is known to have a girlfriend' and the new aspect 'girlfriend left X'. In Czech, this may be done through word order and/or prosody and in English through definiteness and/or prosody (plus a bunch of other discursive ways).

So you're left with sentences like 'It's raining.' or 'It's cold.'

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  • I would say that you can say "My girlfriend left me" without being known to have had a girlfriend. Am I misunderstanding something?
    – dainichi
    May 19 '15 at 3:46

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