For a Structured Meaning Account of Questions and Answers

In Audiatur Vox Sapientia. A Festschrift for Arnim von Stechow. Academie Verlag. pp. 287-320 (2001)

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Abstract
In the logical, philosophical and linguistic literature, a number of theoretical frameworks have been proposed for the meaning of questions (see Ginzburg (1995), Groenendijk & Stokhof (1997) for recent overviews). I will concentrate on two general approaches that figured prominently in linguistic semantics, which I will call the proposition set approach and the structured meaning approach (sometimes called the “propositional” and the “categorial” or “functional” approach). I will show that the proposition set approach runs into three problems: It does not always predict the right focus structure in answers, it is unable to distinguish between polarity (yes/no) and a certain type of alternative questions, and it does not allow to formulate an important condition for a type of multiple constituent questions. On the other hand, I will show that the main argument brought forward against the structured meaning framework, namely that it does not give us an elegant way to account for embedded questions, does not withstand closer scrutiny. In this I will take up an issue raised in von Stechow (1990), namely, that the greater expressive power of the structured meaning approach might be necessary for the proper treatment of semantic phenomena like question formation and focusation.
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