Higher-order readings of wh-questions
Yimei Xiang
June 2020

In most cases, a wh-question calls for an answer that names an entity in the set denoted by the extension of the wh-complement. However, evidence from questions with necessity modals and questions with collective predicates shows that sometimes a wh-question must be interpreted with a higher-order reading, in which this question calls for an answer that names a generalized quantifier.

This paper investigates the distribution and the compositional derivation of these higher-order readings. First, I argue that the generalized quantifiers that can serve as semantic answers to wh-questions must be homogeneously positive. Next, on the distribution of higher-order readings, I find that questions in which the wh-complement is singular-marked or numeral-modified can be responded by elided disjunctions but not conjunctions. I further present two ways to account for this disjunction--conjunction asymmetry. In the uniform account, these questions admit disjunctions because disjunctions (but not conjunctions) may satisfy the atomicity requirement of singular-marking and the cardinality requirement of numeral-modification. In the reconstruction-based account, the wh-complement is syntactically reconstructed, which gives rise to local uniqueness and yields a contradiction for conjunctive answers.

Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004859
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Forthcoming in Natural Language Semantics DOI: 10.1007/s11050-020-09166-8
keywords: wh-words, questions, higher-order readings, quantifiers, boolean coordinations, number marking, uniqueness, collectivity, reconstruction, semantics
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