Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 249–298

A Flexible Approach to Exhaustivity in Questions

  • Sigrid Beck
  • Hotze Rullmann


A semantics for interrogatives is presented which is based on Karttunen's theory, but in a flexible manner incorporates both weak and strong exhaustivity. The paper starts out by considering degree questions, which often require an answer picking out the maximal degree from a certain set. However, in some cases, depending on the semantic properties of the question predicate, reference to the minimal degree is required, or neither specifying the maximum nor the minimum is sufficient. What is needed is an operation which defines the maximally informative answer on the basis of the Karttunen question denotation. Shifting attention to non-degree questions, two notions of answerhood are adopted from work by Heim. The first of these is weakly exhaustive and the second strongly exhaustive. The second notion of answerhood is proven to be equivalent to Groenendijk and Stokhof's interrogative semantics. On the basis of a wide range of empirical data showing that questions often are not interpreted exhaustively, it is argued that a fairly rich system of semantic objects associated with questions is needed to account for the various ways in which questions contribute to the semantics and pragmatics of the utterances in which they appear.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sigrid Beck
    • 1
  • Hotze Rullmann
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA; E-mail
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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