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WH-words are not ‘interrogative’ pronouns : the derivation of interrogative interpretations for constituent questions

By Heike Wiese


I discuss the status of WH-words for interrogative interpretations, and show that the derivation of constituent questions evolves from a specific interplay of syntactic and semantic representations with pragmatics. I argue that WH-pronouns are not ‘interrogative’. Rather, they are underspecified elements; due to this underspecification, WH-words can form a constitutive part not only of interrogative, but also of exclamative and declarative clauses. WH-words introduce a variable of a particular conceptual domain into the semantic representation. Accordingly, they have to be specified for interpretation. Different WH-contexts give rise to different interpretations. In a cross-linguistic overview, I discuss the characteristic elements contributing to the derivation of interrogatives. I argue that specific particles or their phonologically empty counterparts in the head of CP contribute the interrogative aspect. The speech act of ‘asking’ is then carried out via an intonational contour that identifies a question. By default, this intonational contour operates on interrogative sentences; however, other sentence formats – in particular, those of declarative sentences – are possible as well. The distinction of (a) grammatical (syntactic, semantic and phonological) sentence formats for interrogative and declarative sentences, and (b) intonational contours serving the discrimination of speech acts like questions and assertions, can be related to psychological and neurological evidence

Topics: Grammatik, ddc:400
Year: 2010
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