MoL-2007-16: Revealing Concealment: A (Neuro-)Logical Investigation of Concealed Questions

MoL-2007-16: Harris, Jesse Aron (2007) Revealing Concealment: A (Neuro-)Logical Investigation of Concealed Questions. [Report]

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Natural language is notoriously multi-faceted and thoroughly
nefarious. Even the simplest linguistic elements may turn out to
support different interpretations in different contexts. And the more
one examines natural language, the more disparate and complex the
relationship between a word's meaning and the context in which it
occurs seems to become.

This thesis is about contexts in which nominal elements are not
interpreted as nominal elements typically are. To be specific, this
thesis is about so-called concealed questions, nominal phrases (e.g.,
the price of milk) which may be paraphrased as indirect questions
(e.g., what the price of milk is). This investigation stands at the
crossroads of several lines of research, which are themselves perhaps
only tenuously connected. The basic outline of the thesis can be
divided into three major types of inquiry: (i) descriptive, (ii)
theoretical, and (iii) experimental. It is hoped that the sorts of
research discussed here complement one another, giving a richer and
deeper understanding of a highly complex and ill-understood
phenomenon. I briefly present the basic landscape of the thesis,
highlighting the important results.

Overview of Thesis:

Chapter 2 is primarily descriptive. The core, established properties
of concealed questions (CQs) are critically reviewed, and evidence for
two new, but revealing, properties is provided. Then, three major
accounts are presented: Irene Heim's early, influential account; a
string of recent articles by Maribel Romero arguing that CQs are
individual concepts, and the recent dissertation of Lance Nathan,
exploiting a typological correspondence between CQs and propositions.

Chapter 3 is primarily theoretical. A novel semantic account of
concealed questions is developed, one that employs the pragmatic
notion of conceptual covers. Here, I argue that CQs are best expressed
as relations between individual concepts and identity questions, such
that the concept provides a constituent answer to the question
itself. In particular, I posit a type-shifting rule Q which lifts the
nominal to a more complex type <<s,e>,<s,<s,t>>>. Two different ways
of viewing this relation are presented, and the cognitive naturalness
of Q is briefly discussed and defended.

The formal framework is itself developed within a fully compositional
Dynamic Montague Grammar with Existential Disclosure. The unique
binding properties of Dynamic Semantics is exploited to treat a long
standing puzzle regarding an ambiguous interpretation of CQs (Heim's
ambiguity). Together, the chapter gives an in depth framework for
addressing some of the context sensitivity that CQs
display. Throughout, the chapter discusses how CQs relate to
propositions, free relatives, and identity questions.

Chapter 4 presents the first psycholinguistic experiment on concealed
questions. Two separate methodologies, eyetracking and
magnetoencephalography (MEG), found that that interpreting CQs taxes
the language processor. An interpretation of the results which is
broadly compatible with a type-shifting analysis like the one
presented in the preceding chapter is subsequently argued for in

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: MoL-2007-16
Series Name: Master of Logic Thesis (MoL) Series
Year: 2007
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 14:38
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2016 14:38

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