A well-known but ill-explained fact about German is scope inversion under a rise-fall accent contour. The scope inversion in this reading can be derived from general principles of scope assignment and focus marking in German. In particular, focus is assigned to preverbal constituents, leading to syntactic configurations that result in ambiguous interpretations. This explanation must be couched in a framework of derivational economy that favors shorter derivations. The relevant comparison class is defined with respect to phonological form, not, as has been suggested for English, with respect to identity of semantic interpretation; this may be a general property of “free” word order languages.

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