Friday, January 26: Yimei Xiang [pt. I]

Please join us this Friday as Yimei Xiang (Linguistics, Harvard) presents work on questions.

Date and time: Friday, January 26, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: A hybrid categorial approach to question composition


Questions have been defined as lambda abstracts (as in categorial approaches), sets of propositions (as in Hamblin-Karttunen Semantics), or partitions of possible worlds (as in Partition Semantics). Recently, categorial approaches are less commonly used due to their technical difficulties: they cannot capture the existential semantics of wh-words, suffer type-mismatch in composing multi-wh questions, and cannot account for question coordinations. However, a few facts suggest that question denotations should be able to supply not only propositional meanings but also predicative and nominal meanings. For example, in the sentence Susan mostly knows who formed the committee, the adverb mostly quantifies over the set of committee members, which has to be recovered based on the nominal short answers of the embedded question. Moreover, wh-words have a strictly more limited distribution in free relatives (FRs) than in questions, which suggests that wh-FRs are  formed out of wh-questions: in languages with wh-FRs, any wh-word that can be used in FRs can also be used in questions, but not the other direction (Caponigro 2003). These facts leave lambda abstract the only possible denotations of questions.

To revive categorial approach, this talk proposes a novel hybrid categorial approach to compose questions. This approach carries forwards the merits of traditional categorial approaches in tackling short answers and predicative wh-constructions, and moreover overcomes their technical problems.

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