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Questions in context: The case of French wh-in-situ

On the 4th of November, Aliza successfully defended a doctoral thesis. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Aliza on this achievement!

Aliza Glasbergen-Plas
04 November 2021
Leiden University Repository

This dissertation investigates the properties of a particular type of question, namely wh-in-situ questions in French. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, it examines their properties from two perspectives related to the context in which a question is uttered. These are (a) the information structure of the sentence, specifically focus and givenness, and (b) the distinction between regular information seeking questions and echo questions.

An important result is the insight that French has two mechanisms to interpret wh-in-situ questions, yielding potentially identical looking questions with different properties. While certain speakers only have one of these mechanisms to interpret wh-in-situ questions in their grammar, others, often younger speakers, have both. This explains much of the data confusion regarding the properties of French wh-in-situ questions. The dissertation particularly sheds light on the prosody of these questions and the data variation concerning intervention effects.

The investigation also provides more general insights into the relation between wh-questions and aspects of the preceding context. While it is often assumed that the focus in wh-questions necessarily equals the wh-phrase, the dissertation shows experimentally that this is not the case in all languages. In languages like French, what is focused may depend on the preceding context, as in declaratives. The dissertation also provides insight into the prosody and licensing conditions of echo questions. Finally, it suggests a direction of research for contextually restricted wh-in-situ in wh-fronting languages like English and German.

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