An Inquisitive Semantics Treatment of Question Particles

Jeff Lin, New York University


Inquisitive Semantics (AnderBois 2012 and Ciardelli, Gronenendijk, and Roelofsen 2012) characterize questions as a proposition that is inquisitive and non-informative, and presents three closure operators: ?open, ?closed, and !. We argue that there are exactly three ways that these operators, or combinations thereof, can form questions, and that each corresponds to a question marked by distinct sentence final Q(uestion)-particle in interrogative context, known from the literature on Mandarin Chinese.

Specifically, the ?open operator forms a possibility out of the so far excluded world(s), and adds it to the proposition: ⟦P⟧ ⋃ ⟦¬P⟧. Thereby it makes the proposition inquisitive and non-informative. We argue this is exactly what the empty Chinese Q-particle ∅ does. Secondly, the ?closed operator shrinks the presupposed logical space to the worlds already in the proposition. Crucially, this operation cannot turn a non-inquisitive proposition into a question. The question formed in this way requires the proposition to be inquisitive, which corresponds to the Chinese questions marked by sentence final 'ne'-particle. Finally, the third closure operator, !, forms non-inquisitiveproposition by uniting all existing possibilities in a single "flat" possibility. Since the result is non-inquisitive, ! cannot be the main operation in forming questions. Instead, the result is combined with ?open operator to form polar questions. We show that this is the case of Chinese polar questions marked by 'ma'-particle.

In the second half of this talk we will present data of Chinese Q-particles in non- interrogative context, and we aim to show that the Inquisitive Semantics analysis can capture the semantic/pragmatic similarity in the two contexts.