Inquisitive semantics and pragmatics: theoretical foundations and empirical explorations

Place: Linguistics Department of the University of California San Diego
Time: March 2 - March 4, 2011

This mini-course provides an overview of the main ideas underlying inquisitive semantics and pragmatics, and discusses several empirical phenomena that can be given a novel analysis in this framework.

Lecture 1: Inquisitive semantics and pragmatics: information, issues, and attention (slides)

The main aim of inquisitive semantics is to develop a notion of meaning that does not only capture informative content, but also inquisitive and attentive content. Changing the core notion of semantic meaning also has important consequences for pragmatics. We will give an overview of the main ideas, and present a simple formal system that embodies these ideas.

Lecture 2: Prosody, syntax, and semantics of disjunctive questions (handout, handout-2up)

The interpretation of disjunctive questions notoriously depends on subtle differences in surface form and intonation. For instance, Did Sally bring wine or juice? can be interpreted as a yes/no question, but also as an alternative question, depending on intonation. Subtle variations in surface form can make one of these interpretations unavailable. For instance, Did Sally bring wine or did she bring juice? cannot be interpreted as a yes/no question, while Did Sally bring either wine or juice? cannot be interpreted as an alternative question. What exactly are the relevant syntactic and prosodic factors? And how do we formulate a compositional semantics that takes these factors into account?

Lecture 3: Attentive might (slides)

John might be in London or he might be in Paris is equivalent with John might be in London and he might be in Paris. This is a very surprising fact, which is problematic for any semantic account of might previously considered. In inquisitive semantics, it is possible to treat might as an attentive operator. Given this treatment, and a suitable analysis of disjunction and conjunction, the observed equivalence is straightforwardly derived.