Any Questions? Polarity as a Window into the Structure of Questions

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Any Questions? Polarity as a Window into the Structure of Questions

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Title: Any Questions? Polarity as a Window into the Structure of Questions
Author: Nicolae, Andreea Cristina
Citation: Nicolae, Andreea Cristina. 2013. Any Questions? Polarity as a Window into the Structure of Questions. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation investigates the peculiar behavior of negative polarity items in questions and argues that a unified account of their distribution across declarative and interrogative constructions is feasible. These items are acceptable in questions, despite the fact that questions do not prima facie share anything in common with the other environments in which NPIs surface. Specifically, given current analyses of questions there is no way to argue that questions give rise to downward-entailing inferences, which is what otherwise unifies all other NPI licensing environments. In Chapter 2 I argue for a new semantics of questions wherein strength of exhaustivity is encoded not in different answer-hood operators (cf. Heim 1994), but rather in terms of the presence/absence of a null only that adjoins at the level of the question nucleus, building on an observation by Guerzoni and Sharvit (2007) that question strength appears to be the determining factor in whether or not a question allows NPIs. Chapter 3 focuses specifically on the distribution of NPIs in constituent questions and shows how the analysis put forward in Chapter 2 can account for an array of facts, namely their distribution both in the question nucleus, and in the restrictor of the wh-phrase. Further predictions related to NPIs that had not been discussed before are examined, such as how their scope relative to adjunct wh-phrases affects their acceptability, as well as the distributional differences between weak and strong NPIs. In Chapters 4 and 5 we turn to non-wh questions, namely alternate and polar questions. In Chapter 4 I argue that alternate questions can and should be given an analysis akin to that of wh-questions based on both old and new empirical evidence that the distribution of NPIs is sensitive to the same set of restrictions. In Chapter 5 I argue, contrary to previous analyses, that the acceptability of NPIs is not a function of strength, but rather of how polar questions are interpreted, namely as speech act conditionals. Lastly, Chapter 6 focuses on complex questions and puts forward an analysis of these questions that sets the stage for an arguably unified semantics of all types of questions.
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