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Yimei Xiang in Natural Language Semantics

Yimei Xiang (Faculty) has a new paper out ‘online first’ in Natural Language Semantics.

The paper can be freely accessed here: Details below.

Congratulations Yimei!

Xiang, Yimei. Higher-order readings of wh-questions. Natural Language Semantics (2021).

Abstract In most cases, a wh-question calls for an answer that names an entity in the set denoted by the extension of the wh-complement. However, evidence from questions with necessity modals and questions with collective predicates argues that sometimes a wh-question must be interpreted with a higher-order reading, in which this question calls for an answer that names a generalized quantifier. This paper investigates the distribution and compositional derivation of higher-order readings of wh-questions. First, I argue that the generalized quantifiers that can serve as semantic answers to wh-questions must be homogeneously positive. Next, on the distribution of higher-order readings, I observe that questions in which the wh-complement is singular-marked or numeral-modified can be answered by elided disjunctions but not by conjunctions. I further present two ways to account for this disjunction–conjunction asymmetry. In the uniform account, these questions admit disjunctions because disjunctions (but not conjunctions) may satisfy the atomicity requirement of singular-marking and the cardinality requirement of numeral modification. In the reconstruction account, the wh-complement is syntactically reconstructed, which gives rise to local uniqueness and yields a contradiction for conjunctive answers.