Rhetorical questions: Severing asking from questioning

Maria Biezma, Kyle Rawlins


Rhetorical questions (RhQs) are puzzling for theoretical accounts of questions: while they have an interrogative form, they seem to provide the same information as a parallel assertion. We propose that solving this puzzle requires a deeper understanding of the dynamics of interrogative utterances, and in particular we argue for a dynamics parallel to what has recently been proposed for assertions and imperatives: uttering an interrogative is a proposal to update the context, in this case the QUD, and its acceptance leads to the final inquisitive update. We argue that RhQs are interrogatives triggering the presupposition that the context entails the answer, so if accepted as a QUD, they would be immediately answered. This, in combination with the dynamics we develop, allows us to explain both the similarities with assertions as well as the differences in their discourse function. 

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v27i0.4155

Copyright (c) 2017 Maria Biezma, Kyle Rawlins