Ask, and tell as well: Question–Answer Clauses in American Sign Language

Natural Language Semantics 19 (4):323-371 (2011)
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A construction is found in American Sign Language that we call a Question–Answer Clause. It is made of two parts: the first part looks like an interrogative clause conveying a question, while the second part resembles a declarative clause answering that question. The very same signer has to sign both, the entire construction is interpreted as truth-conditionally equivalent to a declarative sentence, and it can be uttered only under certain discourse conditions. These and other properties of Question–Answer Clauses are discussed, and a detailed syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic account is provided. Question–Answer Clauses are argued to be copular clauses consisting of a silent copula of identity connecting an interrogative clause in the precopular position with a declarative clause in the postcopular position. Pragmatically, they instantiate a topic/comment structure, with the first part expressing a sub-question under discussion and the second part expressing the answer to that sub-question. Broader implications of the analysis are discussed for the Question Under Discussion theory of discourse structuring, for the analysis of pseudoclefts in spoken languages, and for recent proposals about the need for answerhood operators and exhaustivity operators in the grammar and the consequences for the syntax/semantics/pragmatics interface



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Syntax and semantics of questions.Lauri Karttunen - 1977 - Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (1):3--44.
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A theory of focus interpretation.Mats Rooth - 1992 - Natural Language Semantics 1 (1):75-116.

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