Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Kjell Johan Sæbø (Oslo): Yet there's method in it: "how" questions and their answers

"How" questions are a stepchild among wh- questions. In fact, hardly any linguist has paid much attention to what "how" means. Yet this question is a pressing one, not least in connection with the newly revived debate over whether Knowing How is a species of Knowing That, where Stanley (2011) restates the 'intellectualist' stance that yes, it is. He argues from semantics, but his semantics is rather shallow - a deeper analysis of the meaning of "how" would be likely to sharpen his argument.
There is a folk notion according to which "how" questions are to be answered with manner adverbs. Now Jaworski (2009) argues that "how" questions are heterogeneous, distinguishing, in particular, those that do ask for manners from those that ask for methods, or means. Indeed, a certain kind of joke indicates that many "how" questions are ambiguous between a 'manner' and a 'method' reading. The two have different answerhood conditions: 'manner' questions are typically answered with adverb or preposition phrases, providing partial answers only, 'method' questions are typically answered with "by" gerunds, potentially providing complete answers.
My hypotheses are that (i) "how" is unambiguous, consistently ranging over properties of events, but (ii) "how" is not always an adjunct, its trace and its short response composing with the VP by predicate modification, it can also be an argument, its trace and its short response composing with the VP by functional application. The latter, 'method' case obtains when a "by" gerund provides an answer and the VP is a second-order predicate, a manner-neutral causative or a so-called criterion predicate (Kearns 2003).
The line between first- and second-order predicates is porous: in particular, achievement and activity predicates can be coerced into manner-neutral causatives and criterion predicates. Now the debate over Knowing How versus Knowing That centres on cases where the VP is an activity predicate. My hypothesis (iii) is that the critical Knowing How reading arises through a reinterpretation of the activity predicate as a criterion predicate.