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On the semantics and logical form of wh-clauses

Stephen Robert Berman, University of Massachusetts Amherst


A logicosemantic analysis of certain kinds of wh-clauses is developed, on which wh-phrases translate as open sentences, that is, as expressions of the semantically interpreted representation which contain free variables. Evidence is presented that sentences that embed indirect questions constitute a semantically heterogeneous class, consisting of those interpreted as quantified sentences, and those interpreted in the same way as direct questions. The evidence consists primarily in the distribution of wh-phrase quantifiability by adverbs of quantification. The theoretical framework is the kind of representational discourse semantics developed independently by Heim and Kamp, in particular their elaboration of the work by Lewis on restricted quantification and the variable quantificational force of indefinites under such adverbs. In chapter 1, following an overview of the dissertation, a summary of relevant aspects, in particular, the form and modeltheoretic interpretation of the logical translations, of the Kamp/Heim theory is presented, sufficient to provide the theoretical basis for the proposed analysis of wh-clauses. In order to set the stage for the latter, chapter 2 is devoted to a brief review of some of the more influential recent analyses of the semantics of questions, concentrating on issues related to the truthconditional interpretation of these constructions. In chapter 3 the first part of the analysis of wh-clauses is presented, concentrating on logicosemantic similarities between wh-phrases and indefinite NPs; the role of pragmatic presupposition is argued to be crucial in determining the correct logical translations of sentences embedding a wh-clause. In chapter 4 some challenges to the proposed analysis, concerning the claim of many recent theories that questions have an exhaustive interpretation, are taken up and argued not to have force. In chapter 5 the analysis is extended to account for quantificational asymmetries between wh-phrases and indefinites; wh-movement is argued to be a determinant of wh-phrase quantifiability, and the role of a syntactic level of Logical Form in the interpretation of wh-clauses is investigated. In appendices several issues raised by the proposed analysis are discussed that are somewhat peripheral to the central points, and in need of further research.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Berman, Stephen Robert, "On the semantics and logical form of wh-clauses" (1991). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9120852.