Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 349–390 | Cite as

Focus and uninformativity in Yucatec Maya questions

  • Scott AnderBoisEmail author


Crosslinguistically, questions frequently make crucial use of morphosyntactic elements which also occur outside of questions. Chief among these are focus, disjunctions, and wh-words with indefinite semantics. This paper provides a compositional account of the semantics of wh-, alternative, and polar questions in Yucatec Maya (YM), which are composed primarily of these elements. Key to the account is a theory of disjunctions and indefinites (extending work by others) which recognizes the inherently inquisitive nature of these elements. While disjunctions and indefinites are inquisitive, they differ from questions since they are also truth-conditionally informative. Compositionally, then, the role of focus in YM questions is to presuppose the informative component of an indefinite wh-word or disjunction, rendering the inquisitive component the question’s only new contribution to the discourse. In addition to deriving question denotations compositionally, the account also captures a potentially surprising fact: focused disjunctions in YM can function as either questions or assertions, depending solely on the discourse context.


Questions Alternatives Focus Disjunction Indefinites Assertion 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics503 Lattimore Hall, University of RochesterRochesterUSA

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