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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

CANCELLED | Some questions about questions: a pragmatic stance

Thursday 25 November 2021
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


What are questions? What do interrogative sentences mean, such that speakers can rely on them for asking questions? What kinds of pragmatic constraints govern questions, analogous to what the Gricean maxims would do for assertions? Are 'embedded questions' questions? Are 'Questions Under Discussion', a core notion in pragmatics, questions? Are 'declarative questions' questions? I adopt a pragmatics-based stance on these issues, according to which asking a question is fundamentally a pragmatic thing that speakers do (not in itself a novel take, of course). More precisely, I conceive of asking a question in terms of the speaker's drawing attention to pieces of information that they consider worth making common ground. This can be achieved linguistically in various ways. From my limited, Dutch- and English-based perspective I will argue that interrogativity may be analyzed as, essentially, a meta-pragmatic marker signifying the lack of an assertion; that is, interrogatives don't do something genuinely different from the corresponding declaratives, but merely less. I will relate this view to several concrete puzzles surrounding question intonation as well as exhaustivity/scalar implicature, and to more general issues concerning the relation between semantics and pragmatics.

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