Colloquium: Dr. Malte Zimmermann

Dr. Malte Zimmermann (University of Potsdam) will be presenting a talk on “Experiments/theoretical considerations on exhaustivity in embedded questions.”



In this programmatic talk, I will raise a number of questions and issues for the interpretation of embedded questions, together with a first overview of experiments to be carried out in our ongoing research project Exhaustivity in Embedded Questions (ExQ), in the DFG-funded priority program (PIs: Onea & Zimmermann). The talk will start off with some background information on question semantics, with a focus on exhaustivity effects (Groenendijk & Stokhof 1982, 1984, Heim 1994, Rullmann 1995, Beck & Rullmann 1999 i.a.). We will then turn to semantic properties of embedded questions under the two verbs know and surprise, such as monotonicity and distributivity; homogeneity; as well as cumulativity effects (Lahiri 2001), which only arise with plural entities. In the following, we propose a novel account of the weak exhaustive/strong exhaustive distinction, which is no longer derived from EXH-operators (as eg. in Beck & Rullmann 1999), but from the fact that embedded questions are definite expressions (this will not be implemented as in Rullmann 1995): The distinction between weak and strong exhaustivity is analyzed as a de re/de dicto-ambiguity of the embedded definite question. Finally, we will consider the effects of the question particle w-alles on the interpretation of embedded questions. We will argue that w-alles does NOT code exhaustivity, but that its main function consists in turning the embedded question denotation into a singleton set, the maximal true answer. This is evidenced by the fact that w-alles breaks homogeneity, same as its adnominal counterpart alles ‘all’ (Kriz 2017), and cumulativity. The presence of w-alles blocks non- exhaustive interpretations, and it triggers a pragmatic preference for strongly exhaustive interpretations under surprise. This paves the way for an interesting prediction regarding subtle cross-linguistic differences in the interpretive strength of bare wh-questions under surprise in languages with (German) and without (English) question particles: the prediction is that German bare wh-questions should receive a logically stronger interpretation than their English counterparts, due to the non-occurrence of w-alles. At various points in the talk, I will propose experimental paradigms for validating (or invalidating) the proposed analysis.


All are welcome to attend.

*Note: This event is eligible for LOC credit. That said, we remind students to please treat this event respectfully: please attend only if you are able to be present for the entire presentation and discussion (within the posted time limits), and understand that this is a high-level, research-oriented presentation. The topic, presentation, and discussion may not be entirely accessible to those without a fair bit of linguistic training.