The role of focus marking in disjunctive questions: A QUD-based approach

Morwenna Hoeks


Disjunctive questions are ambiguous: they can either be interpreted as polar questions (PolQs), as open disjunctive questions (OpenQs), or as closed alternative questions (ClosedQ). The goal of this paper is to show that the difference in interpretation between these questions can be derived via effects of focus marking directly. In doing so, the proposal brings out the striking parallel between the prosody of questions with foci/contrastive topics on the one hand and that of alternative questions on the other. Unlike previous approaches, this proposal does not rely on structural differences between AltQs and PolQs derived via ellipsis or syntactic movement. To show how this works out, an account of focus and contrastive topic marking in questions is put forward in which f-marking in questions determines what constitutes a possible answer by signaling what the speaker's QUD is like. By imposing a congruence condition between f-marked questions and their answers that requires answers to resolve the question itself as well as its signaled QUD, we predict the right answerhood conditions for disjunctive questions.

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