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Discourse Functions of Question Words

Louise Mycock


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Butt (2012) presents an analysis of echo questions in Urdu/Hindi which makes crucial reference to the information structure status of the'wh' question word involved. Such a question word occupies the post-verbal position reserved for Background Information in Urdu/Hindi, which is characterized as [-NEW, -PROM(INENT)] according to the information feature system proposed by Butt & King (1996). This contrasts with the information feature values most often associated with a question word, namely those identified with Focus: [+NEW, +PROM]. One consequence of Butt's (2012) analysis is that it opens up an intriguing possibility: if a question word can belong to either the information structure category Focus or the information structure category Background Information, can it also belong to the other two major categories in Butt & King's (1996) system, i.e. Topic and Completive Information? And if so, how is this to be captured? I argue that question words can indeed belong to these two information structure categories. I propose to capture the relevant generalizations by having question words fully populate the information feature space, a proposal which relies on introducing an interface feature Q that is potentially relevant at multiple levels of the grammar, in line with Dalrymple & Mycock's (2011) approach to interface phenomena within the LFG framework, subsequently revised in Mycock & Lowe (this volume). An initial review of a small sample of cross-linguistic data reveals support for a proposed distinction between [+PROM] and [-PROM] question words. By integrating question words fully into Butt & King's (1996) analysis of discourse functions and adding Q to the inventory of semantic/pragmatic information to be included in interface structures, this work further increases our understanding of interface phenomena and their analysis within the LFG framework.

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