LINGUIST List 13.3208

Thu Dec 5 2002

Disc: What is a Question?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Ahmad R. Lotfi, Disc. What is a question?

Message 1: Disc. What is a question?

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2002 08:04:31 -0800 (PST)
From: Ahmad R. Lotfi <>
Subject: Disc. What is a question?

Bruce wrote:

> This sentence (yes/no interrogative) has the rising question 
> intonation. The wh-interrogative, as you say, makes myriad 
> replies possible. The request is to supply additional 
> information. The intonation is that of a normal statement. It

> is the "wh-word" that specifies the expected form of the 
> reply. It is not asking for a truth value. The yes-no
> interrogative does that.

Although a wh-question is not characterised with a rising
intonation but a falling one like a declarative, the wh-word
itself is still distinctly marked with high pitch. In my
original posting I'd characterised questions with high pitch
rather than rising intonation, which applies to the whole

> It also appears that, beyond what may be relayed by intonation
> and context, there are probably no hard-and-fast rules to 
> determine the pragmatic force of a particular syntactic form. 

And possibly no critical properties defining some sort of
digital membership for the catgory of questions either!
Following Rosch (1975)in her characterisation of membership in a
category NOT as an all-or-none phenomenon (digital membership)
but an analog one with a prototype as "clearest cases, best
examples of the category", one may also characterise--perhaps
reluctantly for a formalist syntactician like me practicing
binarism in most of his formal representations of language--a
question with a prototypical high-pitch request for information
concerning the truth values of a set of propositions. 


Ahmad R. Lotfi, Ph. D
Department of English Language
Graduate School
Azad University
Esfahan, IRAN
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