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Linguistics Seminar Series - Yimei Xiang, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Rutgers University: "Higher-order readings of wh-questions"

Event Type
Department of Linguistics
Sep 21, 2020   4:00 pm  
Yimei Xiang, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Rutgers University
Daniel Stelzer
Originating Calendar
School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics Calendar

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 argues 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 talk investigates the distribution and the compositional derivation of these higher-order readings. I observe that questions in which the wh-complement is singular-marked or numeral-modified can be answered by elided disjunctions but not by 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 account, the wh-complement is syntactically reconstructed, which gives rise to local uniqueness and yields a contradiction for conjunctive answers.

Relevant materials: 

Xiang, Yimei. 2020. Higher-order readings of wh-questions. Forthcoming in Natural Language Semantics

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