The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group 12/07: Kathryn Davidson

The final syntax-semantics reading group meeting of the semester is on Monday at 11:30am in room 32-D461. Kathryn Davidson will give a talk titled “Question-Answer Clauses in American Sign Language” (joint work with Ivano Caponigro).

Abstract: In American Sign Language (ASL), a common rhetorical strategy is to pose a question and answer it, seemingly as one prosodic unit. We show that in fact these questions and their answers form a single syntactic and semantic unit that can even be embedded within larger clauses. Futhermore, these clauses clearly consist of a full question and its answer, not a relative clause structure. Issues arise concerning how the question and answer combine syntactically and semantically, and I will outline our proposal, inspired by previous analyses of pseudoclefts in languages like English. Ultimately, we disagree that the Question-Answer Clause is a pseudocleft, suggesting that this analysis works much better for the clauses in ASL than for typical pseudoclefts. I’ll end by discussing the issue of exhaustive and non-exhaustive answers, and how to account for their distribution in Question-Answer Clauses in ASL.