The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 10/24 - Shumian Ye (Peking University/MIT)

Speaker: Shumian Ye (Peking University/MIT)
Title: Question bias, monopolarity, and presupposition
Date and time: Wednesday, October 24th, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


Mandarin Chinese features diverse types of polar questions (A-not-A questions, ma-questions, ba-questions, intonation questions, etc.), and some polarity words (e.g. dui, meicuo, shide) exclusively used to answer biased questions. By using these polarity answers as a test for question bias, I will make the generalization that the monopolarity of IP domain is necessary for biased polar questions, whereas the bipolarity of IP domain is sufficient for neutral polar questions. Biased A-not-A questions, such as shi-bu-shi questions shown by (1), are argued to be C-neg-C questions in line with our generalization. (cf. Schaffar & Chen 2001)

(1)        Q: Ni    shi-bu-shi            xihuan   yuyongxue?                    A: dui./meicuo./shide.
                you   SHI-not-SHI        like        pragmatics                            right
                ‘You like pragmatics, right?’                                                  ‘Yes, you are right.’

I will derive the epistemic bias of shi-bu-shi questions by adopting Krifka’s (2017) analysis of outer/high negative polar questions in English. I propose that shi is an affirmative operator presupposing that the addressee believes the prejacent proposition is true, and bu is interpreted as a denial operator (~) instead of a negator (¬). That is, shi-bu-shi questions present two equal answer options – affirming φ and denying φ – both answers presuppose the addressee’s (i.e. the questioner’s) belief that φ is true.

Beyond shi-bu-shi questions, I will also discuss biased ma-questions like (2), to see whether we can derive the bias in such case by conveniently analyzing the question particle ma as a denial operator.

(2)        Q: Ni    zhi          xihuan   yuyongxue         ma?                  A: dui./meicuo./shide.
                you    ONLY    like        pragmatics         Q                            right
               ‘You only like pragmatics, right?’                                         ‘Yes, you are right.’