How contextual bias rules the distribution of Mandarin polar questions and their answers
Mengxi Yuan, Yurie Hara
September 2021

The goal of this paper is to define the notion of contextual bias and to provide a compositional semantic analysis that explains the different bias meanings arising from three types of Mandarin polar questions: positive ma questions, negative ma questions and A-not-A questions. First, we show that bias meanings arising from these questions are best characterized by the notion of contextual bias rather than the speaker’s bias, and we provide a formal definition that unifies contextual bias from different sources based on the subjective probability distribution and the Table model (Farkas & Bruce 2010). Second, we provide a compositional semantic analysis of each polar question. The three questions all denote an update of the Table with a Hamblin-set. The difference between positive and negative ma questions is attributed to the pragmatic competition. An A-not-A question is different from a ma question in that the former is uttered with the low boundary tone L% that gives rise to an exhaustivity meaning, which in turn is responsible for its unbiased connotation. Our analysis further explains what kinds of answers are possible as responses to these questions.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006208
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Under review
keywords: polar questions; contextual bias; subjective probability; table, semantics
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