Logic and Language

Manfred Krifka (Berlin): Focus in questions

Speaker: Manfred Krifka (Berlin)
Title: Focus in questions
Time: 16:00 - 17:30
Location: ILLC Meeting Room F1.15

Focus in polar questions triggers special answerhood conditions: Answering Did JOHN come to the party? simply with No is insufficient; the proper answer would be of the type No, Bill. In this talk, I give an account of such questions and their answers in a novel framework for assertive speech acts. I will argue that such questions are not bipolar, in the sense that they ask the addressee to assert one of the propositions {'John came to the party', ¬'John came to the party'}. Rather, they are monopolar: They seek to elicit the assertion of one proposition, 'John came to the party', a discourse move that can be taken up or rejected by the addressee. As always, focus indicates alternatives, which in the case at hand is modelled by a prior request to assert propositions of the form 'x came to the party'; if the addressee rejects the assertion 'John came to the party', he is faced with the task to assert one of the remaining propositions. I will argue that a purely semantic representation of such questions does not result in a sufficient analysis. Time permitting, I will also show how negation in questions, question tags, and constituent questions can be modeled in this framework.