Exclamatives in discourse

Ai Taniguchi, Michigan State


In this talk, I use a dynamic semantic framework to analyze two types of inversion exclamatives in English: positive inversion exclamatives (1) and negative inversion exclamatives (2).

(1) Boy, is Steve immature! (positive inversion exclamative)
(2) Isn’t Steve immature! (negative inversion exclamative)

I adopt Farkas & Bruce (2009)’s approach in particular, where assertions and questions are analyzed as proposals to add a proposition to the common ground. My findings suggest that exclamatives deviate from this discourse behavior: the semantic content of an exclamative is not up for discussion and does not require a reaction from other discourse participants. In other words, exclamatives are noninquisitive.

Another proposal that I make is that exclamatives pressure the common ground into the speaker’s desired state by means of intensification. Though it is typically assumed that the intensification associated with exclamatives is generally degree intensification (Rett, 2011; Zanuttini & Portner, 2003), my position is that of the two inversion exclamatives, it is only the positive sibling that carries degree intensification. I argue that the nature of the intensification in the negative counterpart is an epistemic one — one of polarity emphasis or verum. Crucially, this distinction falls naturally from the fact that inversion exclamatives inherit their semantics from their polar yes/no question counterparts, i.e., Is Steve immature? and Isn’t Steve immature?. My analysis is that when the question semantics is combined with the intensification, it effectively becomes a self-answered question and eliminates the possibility of the discourse proceeding in a direction that is inconsistent with the speaker’s expectations.

I will model this analytical impulse with particular emphasis on Farkas & Bruce (2009)’s notion of the projected set: the future common ground that is mutually anticipated by all discourse participants. In my analysis, I propose individualized projected sets; that is, each discourse participant has their own projected set. The separation proves to be crucial for explicating what it means for exclamatives to prioritize the speaker’s expectations in discourse. This approach offers a novel way of viewing exclamatives from the discourse perspective, which contributes to our broader understanding of what exclamatives are as a class of sentences in language.

Farkas, Donka F & Kim B Bruce. 2009. On reacting to assertions and polar questions. Journal of semantics.
Rett, Jessica. 2011. Exclamatives, degrees and speech acts. Linguistics and Philosophy 34(5). 411–442.
Zanuttini, Raffaella & Paul Portner. 2003. Exclamative clauses: At the syntaxsemantics interface. Language 79(1). 39–81.