Journal of Linguistics

Research Article

Clausal parentheticals, intonational phrasing, and prosodic theory1


a1 Freie Universität Berlin


This paper investigates the intonational phrasing of three types of parenthetical insertions – non-restrictive relative clauses (NRRCs), full sentences, and comment clauses (CCs) – in actual spoken language. It draws on a large set of data from a corpus of spoken British English. Its aim is twofold: first, it evaluates the correctness of previous claims about the intonational phrasing of parentheticals, specifically the assumption that parentheticals are phrased in a separate intonation domain; second, it discusses the implications of the intonational phrasing of parentheticals for prosodic theory. The results of the data analysis are as follows. First, the longer types of interpolations but not CCs are by default phrased separately. Second, both the temporal and the tonal structure of the host may be affected by the parenthetical. Third, CCs lend themselves more readily to the restructuring of intonational phrases such that they are phrased in one domain together with material from the host. Fourth, the prosodic results cannot be explained in syntactic accounts which do not allow for a syntactic relation between parenthetical and host. Fifth, the interface constraints on intonational phrasing apply to parentheticals. Sixth, the intonational phrasing of parentheticals supports the assumption of a post-syntactic, phonological component of the grammar at which restructuring applies.

(Received January 07 2008)

(Revised October 23 2008)


c1 Author's address: Institut für Englische Philologie, FU Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany


[1] I have benefitted from discussion of the work presented here with many people. Thanks are due to the audiences at the Workshop on Parenthesis and Sentence Amalgamation held at the University of Groningen in October 2007, and at the 2nd Prosody–Syntax Workshop (PSI 2) held at ZAS, Berlin, in June 2008; to Anne Wichmann for discussion and numerous native-speaker judgments; to my colleagues in the Berlin/Potsdam area: Laura Downing, Ingo Feldhausen, Sam Hellmuth, Shin Ishihara, Hubert Truckenbrodt and Cedric Patin; to colleagues elsewhere: Jelena Krivokapić, Aditi Lahiri, Frans Plank and Mark de Vries; and to the students attending the course Syntax III – Parentheticals in English, held at the University of Konstanz, summer 2008. I am particularly grateful to Lisa Selkirk and to one other, anonymous reviewer for the Journal of Linguistics for their extensive and insightful comments, as well as to the proofreader for JL. The work presented here has benefitted greatly from the International Corpus of English and accompanying software. ICE-GB is coordinated by the Survey of English Usage, University College London. For more information, consult the following website: