Publication details [#5534]

Han, Chung-hye. 2002. Interpreting interrogatives as rhetorical questions. Lingua 112 (3, March) : 201–229. 29 pp.
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While an ordinary question seeks information or an answer from the hearer, a rhetorical question does not expect to elicit an answer. In general, a rhetorical question has the illocutionary force of an assertion of the opposite polarity from what is apparently asked. Under the rhetorical question reading, the yes-no questions 'Did I tell you that writing a dissertation was easy?' and 'Didn't I tell you that writing a dissertation was easy?' respectively assert 'I didn't tell you that writing a dissertation was easy' and 'I told you that writing a dissertation was easy'. I show that rhetorical questions and ordinary questions do not pattern alike with respect to various well-formedness conditions, such as negative polarity item licensing. I propose a way of deriving the interpretation of rhetorical questions and address why rhetorical questions have the interpretation of an assertion of the opposite polarity. I also argue that the representation over which various well-formedness conditions are stated is the output of a post-LF derivation determined via interaction with a subpart of the interpretational component, i.e., pragmatics. I show that a compositional semantics for rhetorical questions is possible by directly mapping this post-LF representation onto the semantic interpretation. The approach pursued here has implications for the architecture of the grammar in general, and in particular, for the nature of the interface between syntax and semantics/pragmatics. (LLBA, Adapted from the source document, Accession Number 200206057)