The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 9/25 - Yimei Xiang (Rutgers)

Speaker: Yimei Xiang (Rutgers)
Title: Higher-order readings of wh-questions and the disjunction–conjunction asymmetry
Time: Friday, September 25th, 3:30pm – 5pm

Abstract: In most cases, a wh-question calls for an answer that names an entity in the set denoted by the extension of the wh-complement. However, evidence from questions with necessity modals and questions with collective predicates argues that sometimes a wh-question must be interpreted with a higher-order reading, in which this question calls for an answer that names a generalized quantifier.

This talk investigates the distribution and the compositional derivation of these higher-order readings. I observe that questions in which the wh-complement is singular-marked or numeral-modified can be answered by elided disjunctions but not by conjunctions. I further present two ways to account for this disjunction—conjunction asymmetry. In the uniform account, these questions admit disjunctions because disjunctions (but not conjunctions) may satisfy the atomicity requirement of singular-marking and the cardinality requirement of numeral-modification. In the reconstruction account, the wh-complement is syntactically reconstructed, which gives rise to local uniqueness and yields a contradiction for conjunctive answers.

If time permits, I will also talk about the constraints on what generalized quantifiers may serve as semantic answers to wh-questions.

Relevant materials:

Xiang, Yimei. 2020. Higher-order readings of wh-questions. Forthcoming in Natural Language Semantics. https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004859