The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 5/15 - Wataru Uegaki

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki
Title: Cross-linguistic variation in the strategies of forming alternative questions: Japanese and beyond
Date/Time: Thursday, May 15, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

(This is a practice talk for SALT.)

As Gracanin-Yuksek puts it in her recent WAFL talk, current issues in the syntax and semantics of alternative questions (AltQs) involve two main questions: whether AltQs involve deletion and whether they involve a covert scoping operation. Along these two dimensions, there are (at least) three analytic possibilities existing in the literature for the compositional semantic derivation of an English AltQ. One possibility is to analyze the disjunction as undergoing some form of covert scoping operation (Quantifying-in in Karttunen 1977, Larson 1985; focus semantics in Beck & Kim 2006), making it to take scope over the question-forming operator. The other two possibilities involve deletion in the second disjunct whose underlying structure is larger than its surface appearance. In one analysis, the underlying structure of the AltQ is a coordination of two questions, and no covert scoping operation is needed to derive the AltQ meaning (Pruitt & Roelofsen 2011). The other way is to assume both deletion and a covert scoping operation (Han & Romero 2004).

This paper contributes to this debate by focusing on AltQs in Japanese, arguing that they are underlyingly disjunctions of polar questions, along the lines of Pruitt and Roelofsen (2011). After presenting a Hamblin-semantic implementation of such an analysis, I will situate the Japanese-type AltQs in the new cross-linguistic typology of AltQs, which takes into account languages that disambiguate AltQs and Yes/No questions using distinct disjunction markers (such as Finnish and Basque). The resulting picture is that languages vary in the strategies they use in forming alternative questions: one with scoping and one with coordination of full CP-questions.