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First meeting: Information structure and Questions

General information


7-10. March 2012

8. March 2012: 9-12

10. March 2012: 9-18


Frankfurt am Main

Many thanks to Ede Zimmermann (local organizer)



The first part of the meeting was the Workshop: Questions in Discourse at the DGfS in Frankfurt:

The talks of Network members at the workshop:

March 8.

9 - 10 David Beaver: Anti-matters
11-12 Malte Zimmermann: 'Even' gives even more information: Scalar particles and discourse structure


March 10.

9:30-10:00 Introduction : Malte Zimmermann and Edgar Onea
10-11 Invited talk: Manfred Krifka: Negated polarity questions as denegations of assertions
11-12 Invited talk: Daniel Hole: Distributed syntax and semantics for scalar-evaluational only
12-14 lunch break
14:00-14:30 Radek Šimík: On prolog-style multiple questions in natural language handout
14:30-15:00 Arndt Riester:
15:00-15:30 Mira Grubic:
15:30-16:00 Henk Zeevat:
16:00-18:00 Round table discussion with position papers

  • David Beaver:
  • Craige Roberts:

Please upload your slides/handouts and link them here.

Topics that have been discussed

The workshop meeting had three main topics of discussion:

  • The notions of at issue vs. not at issue content and their relation to focus and the questions under discussion.
  • The discourse structuring role of questions and speech acts and discourse particles
  • Information structure, focus and focus sensitivity

The notions of at issue vs. not at issue content and their relation to focus and the questions under discussion.

The notion of at issue vs. not at issue content has been claimed by Roberts et al 2010 to be relevant for the projection of presupposed and appositive material. The exact notion of at issueness however has not been so clear. Initially at issueness has been claimed to be dependent on the overt question under discussion. However, that led to claims that were fairly hard to falsify, because of an unlimited potential of accommodation of implicit questions.

As opposed to this, David Beaver presented a version of the theory in which at issueness (matter) vs. not at issueness (anti matter) rather depends on the focus-background structure of the host-utterance, hence the wider pragmatic grounding of the theory has been shifted to a more surface oriented approach.

Examples and exact definitions to come

The discourse structuring role of questions and speech acts and discourse particles

One the recurrent topics of the discussion was the question what kinds of discourse models are needed to capture linguistic phenomena.

  • Manfred Krifka presented evidence for a speech act based discourse model, in which information seeking questions for only a sub-component of the overall system. The system also includes all kinds of other speech acts, which can directly interact with linguistic material e.g. in form of denegation of speech acts. It is of particular interest that in this system, the notion of alternatives is still present but largely independent of the specific notion of question-alternatives (Hamblin-Alternatives), which usually forms the basis for most theories of focus.
  • In a similar vein Craige Roberts pointed out the need to supplement the standard question-answer based discourse model with higher or additional levels pertaining to discourse aims and intentions of the discourse participants. In her view linguistics and discourse modeling is not only concernded with modelling linguistic phenomena but also with a general explanative theory of communication. The first two point will be discussed in the third meeting in 2013 in Potsdam.
  • On the other side, David Beaver pointed out that all kinds of alternatives can be roughly thought of as questions (not necessarily information-seeking devices) and that in order to capture the meaning of focus we not only require global questions, which structure the general discourse, but also local questions, which emerge in quantificational structures, conditionals and the like. The formal implementation of such questions has been identified as as an important research desideratum. See Beaver and Coppock 2012 for a first approximation. In the second meeting , this will be one of the important topics of discussion.
  • Henk Zeevat has argued that it seems possible to model the semantic contribution of contrastitve/corrective-particles such as but in question-based discourse models. However, this move would lead to the postulation of questions which cannot be expressed in a very natural way. The question came up whether this price is worth paying, or whether one should give up on the project of capturing the meaning of such particles in such frameworks. The role of discourse particles in discourse structuring and the question of whether or not discourse structure can be properly captured in terms of questions under discussion (d-trees), might be a topic for the third meeting .
  • Radek Simik discussed a particular type of inquiry strategy in which multiple wh-words do not appear in a hierarchy as generally assumed in the literature, but are interpreted in a flat in symmetric way. While the discussion focused on Czech data, it turned out that such interpretations are also possible in other languages. Topics such as this one seem highly relevant for the meetings 5 and 6.

Information structure, focus and focus sensitivity

Malte, Mira, Daniel Hole, Arndt, David

1st.txt · Last modified: 2012/06/25 23:56 by malte