Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

Questions and implicatures

The project is concerned with the issue, whether and how questions are ordered with respect to informativity to each other. An assertion such as John read War & Peace is more informative than John read a book. It is, however, not clear whether questions such as Did John read War & Peace? and Did John read a book stand in a parallel relationship to each other.

The investigation of this issue is important for the following reason: phenomena which are dependent on the amount of information of a given assertion also appear in questions. The negative polarity item ever, for instance, is not licensed in an assertion without negation, as the contrast between I don't think John has ever been to Chicago and *I think John has ever been to Chicago shows. Negation leads to a maximally informative assertion. Without it, however, the assertion is not maximally informative. Negative polarity items like ever are only licensed in the former. Ever, on the other hand, is licensed in without negation in questions, as Has John ever been to Chicago? shows. This fact leads one to expect that questions are in some way or other maximally informative, as well.

The project investigates different empirical phenomena in questions which would be dependent on the amount of information when appearing in an assertion. These include but are not limited to (i) negative polarity items, (ii) scalar implicatures, (iii) focus and exhaustivity. The goal of the project is to develop a general theory explaining the appearance and behavior of such phenomena in questions. Answers will play an important role in this because answers are clearly ordered with respect to informativity. The project attempts to explain the phenomena in questions by making reference to the informativity of the corresponding answer.