AG 10: Questions in Discourse
Raum NG 731 (Nebengebäude, Erdgeschoss)
Donnerstag, 08.03.2012, 10.00 bis 11.00 Uhr
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María Biezma & Kyle Rawlins
Carleton University & Johns Hopkins University
We analyze “or what” alternative questions (OWQs), arguing they are part of a pronominal system that tracks discourse-level moves (supported crosslinguistically): OWQs are anaphoric to Q(uestions) U(under) D(iscussion) (Roberts 1996, a.o.).
We show that OWQs trigger varied inferences in different contexts: they are used as “open” and information-seeking questions, but also lead to ‘cornering’- like effects (see Biezma 2009).
(1) Context 1: open/information-seeking
A: What do you want to drink?
(2) Context 2: cornering
A: Do you want coffee?
A: Do you want coffee or what?
This varied behavior follows from a QUD-based discourse model and the discourse-anaphoric nature of “what”, together with the properties of alternative questions.
(4) ||what||c = QUDc
In (1), the only salient QUD is provided by A’s initial question. The OWQ identifies coffee as a likely epistemic alternative, and otherwise restates the previous question (≈ “do you want coffee or what do you want to drink?”), leaving space to reconsider alternatives besides coffee. In (2), the most salient QUD is provided by the polar question: OWQ ≈ “do you want coffee or do you want coffee?” The questioner identifies coffee as the most salient alternative, despite the prior polar question already highlighting it. This insistence, together with inference that the questioner cannot identify other likely alternatives to mention (e.g. by instead asking “do you want tea?”) leads to a cornering-like effect: the addressee must commit to an answer in a ‘narrower’ set of epistemic possibilities.