AG 14: Information Structure in Non-Assertive Speech Acts

Raum NG 1.731 (Nebengebäude, 1. Obergeschoss)
Donnerstag, 08.03.2012, 10.00 bis 10.30 Uhr

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Clemens Mayr
Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft
Alternative semantics and intervention effects

In this talk I discuss intervention effects in German wh-questions (cf. Beck 1996). In such constructions, if a scope-bearing element c-commands a whelement (e.g. a wh-in-situ element), unacceptability results – that is, the question cannot be interpreted. I show that a purely syntactic analysis of such facts cannot be correct, because it would not predict the data in full generality: the correct empirical generalization must make reference to semantic properties such as monotonicity. In line with the topic of the workshop I will discuss two recent approaches to intervention effects making reference to notions relevant for information structure. First, I show that a theory arguing that problematic interveners are those elements that cannot be interpreted as topics cannot be entirely correct for the German data. Second, I discuss two recent approaches both crucially relying on an alternative semantics along the lines of Rooth (1985): Beck (2006) and Mayr (2011). Following the latter analysis, I show that an alternative semantics alone is not sufficient to explain the contrast between acceptable and unacceptable wh-questions. Rather the alternative-based account must be accompanied by a semantic/pragmatic theory of answerhood, following essentially Groenendijk and Stokhof’s 1984 insights. In a nutshell, a question with a problematic intervener cannot be guaranteed to be successfully answerable. Finally, I will discuss the relation of such a view to recent analyses of negative-islands based on the idea these are also not answerable either.

Beck, Sigrid (1996): Quantified structures as barriers for LF movement. In: Natural Language Semantics 4, 1–56.

Beck, Sigrid (2006): Intervention effects follow from focus interpretation. In: Natural Language Semantics 14, 1–56.

Groenendijk, Jeroen & Martin Stokhof (1984): Studies on the Semantics of Questions and the Pragmatics of Answers. Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, PhD thesis.

Mayr, Clemens (2011): Intervention effects and semantic answers. Berlin, ZAS, Ms.

Rooth, Mats (1985): Association with Focus, Amherst, University of Massachusetts, PhD thesis.

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