Questions and Indeterminate Reference

In Moritz Cordes (ed.), Asking and Answering: Rivalling Approaches to Interrogative Methods. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto. pp. 241–252 (2021)
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This short paper describes a perspective on questions which does not view wh-words as existential quantifiers or as expressions introducing a quantificational domain, but rather as indeterminate referential expressions (Dotlačil and Roelofsen 2019). The proposal is programmatic in nature, and several aspects of it remain to be worked out in greater detail. I argue, however, that it has several potential benefits, including a principled account of weak and strong question interpretations, a uniform analysis of single-wh and multiple-wh questions, and an account of the typologically widespread similarity between interrogative and indefinite pronouns which, unlike previous approaches, can explain the observation that if a language contains interrogative and indefinite pronouns which are similar in form but non-identical (e.g., where and somewhere), the indefinite pronouns are always morphologically more complex than the interrogative pronouns, and never the other way around (Haspelmath 1997). The tentative proposal is that an interrogative pronoun involves complete indeterminacy in the sense that it does not only leave open what its referential value is but also whether it has a referential value at all. For instance, where is completely indeterminate, permitting lack of a referential value. The ‘some’ in somewhere eliminates this possibility and thereby exerts existential force.



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Floris Roelofsen
University of Amsterdam

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References found in this work

Introduction to mathematical philosophy.Bertrand Russell - 1919 - New York: Dover Publications.
Inquisitive Semantics.Ivano Ciardelli, Jeroen Groenendijk & Floris Roelofsen - 2018 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Edited by J. A. G. Groenendijk & Floris Roelofsen.
Dynamic predicate logic.Jeroen Groenendijk & Martin Stokhof - 1991 - Linguistics and Philosophy 14 (1):39-100.
Syntax and semantics of questions.Lauri Karttunen - 1977 - Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (1):3--44.
Questions in montague english.Charles L. Hamblin - 1973 - Foundations of Language 10 (1):41-53.

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