Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Understanding Questions

This project proposes an integrated and comparative study on the syntactic, semantic, prosodic and processing aspects of in-situ wh-questions, taking the Grammar-parser correspondence hypothesis (Phillips 1996, 2003) as a guiding principle.

Duration 2014  -  2018
Contact Lisa Cheng
Funding NWO Free CompetitionNWO Free Competition

In English, an interrogative phrase (or wh-phrase) has to be fronted in order to form a question (What did he ask?). In other languages, the wh-phrase remains "in situ", that is, in its original position (cf. French Il a demandé quoi? lit. "He asked what"?, meaning "What did he ask"?). Whereas French has both fronted and in-situ questions, some languages such as Mandarin Chinese only allow the in-situ strategy.  
In fronted wh-questions, the fronted wh-phrase indicates the clause type from the very beginning of the sentence. The syntactic literature has posited comparable structure for in-situ and fronted questions, in the sense that clause typing always occurs in a designated position high up in the structure. However, up to now it is unknown whether such clause typing is reflected in the prosody of wh-in-situ, nor do we know whether/how the parser anticipates the clause type of the in-situ questions.  

This project proposes an integrated and comparative study on the syntactic, semantic, prosodic and processing aspects of in-situ wh-questions, taking the Grammar-parser correspondence hypothesis (Phillips 1996, 2003) as a guiding principle. According to this hypothesis, the grammar and the parser are closely intertwined and the competence system of language is guided by grammatical constraints and rules. Given this, we expect that detailed prosodic analyses as well as data on processing will help us understand how clause typing is done in syntactic structure. At the same time it will allow us to verify different hypotheses made in the literature.