Clemens Mayr (Leibniz-ZAS Berlin / Göttingen)

On the presuppositional requirements of alternative questions

In this talk I will propose a new semantic analysis of alternative questions such as Did JOHN or MARY attend the party?, where capital letters indicate focal stress. Such questions strongly suggest that the speaker expects exactly one of the alternatives to be true – that is, that either John attended the party, or that Mary did, but not both. Drawing on novel data from Polish I will show that such questions should be viewed as disjunctions of polar questions. In addition, I will review data from other languages to bolster this view. The analysis is based on the following ingredients: (i) a modest modification of Karttunen’s semantics for polar questions, (ii) mutually exclusive focus on the disjuncts, (iii) a Strong Kleene semantics for disjunction. I will argue that the particular semantics adopted derives the special meaning component of alternative questions discussed above as presuppositions.