The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 11/1 - Wataru Uegaki

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki
Date/Time: Friday 1 November, 1 pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: Exhaustive inferences and intonation-discourse congruence


[This is a revision of the talk I presented last semester at LFRG.]

It has been observed that an exhaustive inference (hereafter ExhInf) of question-answers arises only when the polarity of the answer matches that of the question (Schulz and van Rooij 2006; Spector 2007). E.g., although the answer “I will invite Sue” to the question “Who will you invite?” gives rise to the inference that Sue is the only person that the speaker will invite, the answer “I won’t invite Sue” to the same question does not readily give rise to the inference that Sue is the only person that the speaker will not invite (pace von Stechow and Zimmermann 1984).

Previous approaches to this phenomenon stipulate mechanisms that are specific to polarity (or monotonicity)-mismatching question-answer pairs (Schulz and van Rooij 2006; Spector 2007) and largely ignored the role of intonation. In this presentation, I provide an account of the phenomenon in terms of a general constraint on the alternatives to be used in the derivation of ExhInfs, taking into account the discourse structure modelled as a tree of Question under Discussions (Roberts 1996, Büring 2003). Specifically, the constraint states that the alternatives are restricted to be members of the Hamblin-denotation of the immediate QUD of the utterance (the mother of the utterance in terms of the discourse tree representation).

Taking a closer look at the data, we see that there is a restriction on the felicitous intonations in a polarity-mismatching answer. The only available intonation involves a contrastive topic intonation on the item corresponding to the wh and a focus intonation on the item indicating polarity. I argue that this reflects the general intonation-discourse interface conditions (in particular, Question-answer congruence and CT congruence by Rooth 1992, Büring 2003), and the uniquely available intonation reflects a discourse structure in which the wh-question is divided into multiple polar questions. Given the general constraint on alternatives stated above, such a discourse structure is predicted not to give rise to an exhaustive inference.