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Veneeta Dayal

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199281268

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199281268.001.0001

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Focus and alternatives

Focus and alternatives

Chapter:
(p.235) 8 Focus and alternatives
Source:
Questions
Author(s):

Veneeta Dayal

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199281268.003.0008

This chapter discusses the connection between question formation and focus strategies. Two versions of focus semantics for questions are considered. One seeks to explain the variable quantificational force of indeterminate pronouns in Japanese and German. The other seeks to explain intervention effects (the generalization that focus-sensitive expressions cannot occur above wh in-situ). Alternative explanations are also considered. Syntax is shown to mediate between the semantics of focus and prosody, as well as those aspects of prosody that have an impact on focus in questions. The relationship between information structure-based distinctions (topic–comment, focus–background, given–new) and focus semantics in terms of alternatives is articulated. Grammatical and pragmatic differences between polar questions and polar alternative questions are probed, as is the ambiguity of questions with disjunction. The role of prosody in separating out polar questions and alternative question readings of disjunctive questions and the proper analysis of alternative questions are discussed.

Keywords:   focus semantics, prosody, intervention, indeterminate pronouns, polar questions, polar alternative questions, alternative questions, information structure, alternatives

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