DS-2020-13: Questions in Context

DS-2020-13: van Gessel, Thom (2020) Questions in Context. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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According to the traditional picture in semantics, the meaning of a sentence is given by its truth conditions: they state what the world has to be like for the sentence to be true. This dissertation is about two phenomena that both require a refinement of this picture: indexicality and questions.

What indexical expressions like ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘here’ or ‘now’ refer to depends on the context in which they are used. As a consequence, the truth conditions of sentences in which indexical expressions appear may vary between contexts of use. Questions pose a different challenge: because they are not true or false, their meaning cannot be given in terms of truth conditions.

What is shown in this dissertation is that indexicality and questions, which so far have only been studied in isolation, interact in interesting ways. According to the standard analysis, an expression is context-sensitive if what is said by it depends on the context. Questions can be context-sensitive in a different way too. For instance, what is asked by ‘Who am I?’ does not vary between contexts, but rather makes the context an object of inquiry. Another phenomenon unique to questions is that they can require indexical answers, while being non-indexical themselves: in some circumstances, the question ‘Where is the guide?’ should be interpreted as ‘Is the guide in front of us or behind us?’ rather than ‘What is the absolute position of the guide?’.

This dissertation develops a semantic framework that can account for these observations. It does so by combining insights from two traditions in the semantic literature: on the one hand, two-dimensional semantics, which provides an account of context-sensitivity, and on the other hand inquisitive semantics, which is designed to deal with questions and statements in a uniform way. The resulting framework can be used to show how questions about facts like identity, which have been argued to be necessary, can be cognitively significant, and how questions that can be answered a priori can be about contingent facts. The logical properties of the basic version of this framework are investigated, and a sound and complete axiomatization for the logic is given.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2020-13
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2020
Subjects: Logic
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:17
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:17
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2182

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