On asking and answering biased polar questions
Daniel Goodhue
March 2018

This dissertation explores how the interpretation of polar questions and answers to them is affected by prosody and negation. Phenomena analyzed include polar questions with polarity focus (prominence on the auxiliary), negative polar questions, yes/no responses to positive and negative polar questions, and the intonations used in such yes/no responses. Chapter 2 examines the phenomenon of prominence shifting to the auxiliary, which is sometimes called polarity focus and other times called verum focus. The data is drawn primarily from English with connections to German. I argue that in these languages, prominence shifting to the auxiliary is caused by syntactic F-marking of the polarity head. Discourse restrictions on this focus-marking are explained by the general theory of focus marking assumed in work such as Rooth 1985, 1992; Kratzer 1991. I review earlier accounts of such prominence shifts as polarity focus (Richter, 1993; Wilder, 2013; Samko, 2016a), demonstrating challenges they face, and then I address those challenges. I also review accounts that rely on a special VERUM operator, and that claim that the general theory of focus has no role to play in explaining the phenomenon (Romero & Han, 2004; Gutzmann & Castroviejo Miró, 2011; Gutzmann et al., submitted). I demonstrate how apparent evidence for this view is in fact compatible with the more parsimonious account that relies on the general theory of focus and other independently motivated pragmatic principles that together explain the pragmatic effects of polarity focus. Chapter 3 considers the fact that certain kinds of polar questions imply an epistemic bias, i.e., that the speaker has prior beliefs about the correct answer to the question. In particular, questions with preposed negation (high negation questions) and questions with auxiliary prominence (polarity focus questions) give rise to the implication that the speaker believes or expects that the answer with polarity opposite from the polarity of the question is true. Despite the similarity of the bias inferences that are drawn from these two kinds of questions, I demonstrate that there are empirical asymmetries in their distribution. In particular, the bias in polarity focus questions is context dependent while the bias in high negation questions is context insensitive. Moreover, since polarity focus questions exhibit focus shifting, they require the proper discourse antecedent in order to be licensed. High negation questions do not require discourse antecedents in this way. I develop an account of epistemic bias in polarity focus questions that depends on independently motivated pragmatic principles (Grice, 1989; Stalnaker, 1978; Roberts, 1996/2012), and that predicts subtle facts of the observed context dependency. For high negation questions, I build on the analysis in Krifka 2015, 2017, which follows Ladd 1981 in arguing that high negation is “outside of the proposition” by claiming the preposed negation is not propositional negation, but is a special negation that appears above a speech act operator. This high position of negation enables an explanation of epistemic bias that predicts its context insensitivity, and also explains why high negation cannot license n-words in Spanish. Chapter 4 explores the fact that English polar particles yes and no are interchangeable in response to negative sentences, that is, either one can be used to convey both positive and negative responses. A critical discussion of recent research into this phenomenon (Kramer & Rawlins, 2009; Krifka, 2013; Roelofsen & Farkas, 2015; Holmberg, 2016) leads to three questions: Does the intonation produced on yes and no depend on whether the response is positive or negative, and can intonation affect the interpretation of bare polar particle responses? Which particles do speakers prefer to use when? Are preference patterns sensitive to the polarity of preceding sentences in the context? A series of experiments demonstrate that the contradiction contour (Liberman & Sag, 1974) is an intonation that is commonly produced on positive responses to negative sentences, and that it affects hearers’ interpretations of bare particle responses. A new analysis of the contradiction contour that builds on Liberman & Sag’s is offered. Beyond intonation, the experimental results add new evidence regarding speakers’ preferences for using yes and no in response to negative polar questions and rising declaratives. Finally, the results suggest that preference patterns are not sensitive to the polarity of context sentences.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003956
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: McGill University
keywords: bias, polar questions, focus, polarity focus, verum focus, negative questions, high negation questions, outer negation, speech act, epistemic bias, evidential bias, polar particles, response particles, yes, no, intonation, contours, tunes, contradiction contour, experimental, semantics, syntax, pragmatics, questions
previous versions: v1 [March 2018]
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