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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We extend our deepest thanks to Brandon Scates, Frank Gallimore, Jamie Gould, and other consultants who wish to remain anonymous for sharing their language with us. We warmly thank and acknowledge Rachel Mayberry for her continuous support and substantial contribution to the development of this work. Special thanks to Veneeta Dayal, Donka Farkas, and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful detailed comments and suggestions. We also extend our thanks to Christine Bartels Gennaro Chierchia, Paul Elbourne, Carlo Geraci, Anastasia Giannakidou, Andreas Haida, Matt Hall, Andrew Kehler, Diane Lillo-Martin, Matt Pearson, Carson Schütze, Yael Sharvit, as well as audiences at CLS 44, SALT 18, WCCFL 27, MIT Ling-Lunch, the UCLA Linguistics Department Colloquium, and the UMD Linguistics Department Colloquium for their helpful suggestions. Finally, we are grateful to Carol Neidle for permission to use the NCSLGR SignStream database images. The authors’ names are in alphabetical order. Both authors are equally responsible for every part of the paper, and are the only ones responsible for any remaining mistake.
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Caponigro, I., Davidson, K. Ask, and tell as well: Question–Answer Clauses in American Sign Language. Nat Lang Semantics 19, 323–371 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-011-9071-0
- American Sign Language
- Copular clause
- Question Under Discussion Theory