Semantic Theories of Questions
- Floris RoelofsenFloris RoelofsenInstitute for Logic, Language and Computation, University of Amsterdam
This survey article discusses two basic issues that semantic theories of questions face. The first is how to conceptualize and formally represent the semantic content of questions. This issue arises in particular because the standard truth-conditional notion of meaning, which has been fruitful in the analysis of declarative statements, is not applicable to questions. This is because questions are not naturally construed as being true or false. Instead, it has been proposed that the semantic content of a question must be characterized in terms of its answerhood or resolution conditions. This article surveys a number of theories which develop this basic idea in different ways, focusing on so-called proposition-set theories (alternative semantics, partition semantics, and inquisitive semantics).
The second issue that will be considered here concerns questions that are embedded within larger sentences. Within this domain, one important puzzle is why certain predicates can take both declarative and interrogative complements (e.g., Bill knows that Mary called / Bill knows who called), while others take only declarative complements (e.g., Bill thinks that Mary called / *Bill thinks who called) or only interrogative complements (e.g., Bill wonders who called / *Bill wonders that Mary called). We compare two general approaches that have been pursued in the literature. One assumes that declarative and interrogative complements differ in semantic type. On this approach, the fact that predicates like think do not take interrogative complements can be accounted for by assuming that such complements do not have the semantic type that think selects for. The other approach treats the two kinds of complement as having the same semantic type, and seeks to connect the selectional restrictions of predicates like think to other semantic properties (e.g., the fact that think is neg-raising).
- Linguistic Theories